Everything you wanted to know about language(s), but were too afraid to ask….How do you shout in click languages?

One of the things that I love about being a sociolinguist is that everyone shares the capacity to communicate and therefore tends to have something to say about language or languages. It’s one of those subject areas that seem to create most opportunities for further conversation at parties when the inevitable question comes up, “so, what do you do?”

At one party last year, meeting new people, we got around to talking about linguistics and languages (obviously), had a nice conversation, then in the drift of the party I ended up speaking to some other people, but I could still hear the languages conversation continuing without me, so far so standard. Then someone from the first group asked “how do you shout in click languages?” at which point, I couldn’t help but re-join the first group and gave a probably rather tipsy answer, and was something along the lines of the following…

You shout in click languages much as you would do in any other spoken language (signed languages are different and will be the subject of a future post). This is because clicks are actually just a small sub-set of consonants. In fact there are only 5 of them attested in the IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet not the beer). Most consonants are produced using air expelled from your lungs and are referred to as pulmonic, whereas clicks don’t use this mechanism to make a sound. The sound is created by “clicking” different parts of your mouth closed and open again – these could be your two lips (bilabial click) or your tongue just behind your top teeth (dental click). You can have a look and listen to all the different possible clicks, which are classed as non-pulmonic consonants, from this interactive IPA chart. Try copying them too! (When demonstrating consonants the people in the videos say them between two vowel sounds, as it’s easier.) They also have charts for all the other consonants and vowels. Another thing to know about the languages in which clicks are present is that these languages do not only have clicks, but also have other consonants and vowels used in different combinations. You can listen to a recording of a monologue in Juǀ’hoan, a language which features clicks, here on Language Landscape and a song in ǂkx’ao-ǁ’ae here.

If there is anything you would like to know about language(s), we are taking questions and topics for future blogposts! You can comment on the blog or reach us via Twitter @langlandscape #llqna or find us on Facebook. Finally thanks to the people I met at the party that night for inspiring this series of blogs and to agreeing for our tipsy linguistics conversation to become the first of the series on Language Landscape.

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