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ǀXam language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

ǀKham, ǀKhuai
Native toSouth Africa, Lesotho
Extinct1910s[citation needed]
  • ǃKwi
    • ǀXam
transcribed in Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3xam

ǀXam (pronounced [ǀ͡xam] , in English as /ˈkɑːm/ KAHM) is an extinct language (or possibly cluster of languages) of South Africa formerly spoken by the ǀXam-ka ǃʼē. It is part of the ǃUi branch of the Tuu languages and closely related to the moribund Nǁng language. Much of the scholarly work on ǀXam was performed by Wilhelm Bleek, a German linguist of the 19th century, who studied a variety of ǀXam spoken at Achterveld, and (with Lucy Lloyd) another spoken at Strandberg and Katkop while working with ǁKabbo, Diaǃkwāin, ǀAǃkúṅta, ǃKweiten-ta-ǁKen, ǀHaṅǂkassʼō and other speakers.[1] The surviving corpus of ǀXam comes from the stories told by and vocabulary recorded from these individuals in the Bleek and Lloyd Collection.


The pipe at the beginning of the name "ǀXam" represents a dental click, like the English interjection tsk, tsk! used to express pity or shame. The ⟨x⟩ denotes a voiceless velar fricative click accompaniment.

Compared to other Khoisan languages, there is little variation in rendering the name, though it is sometimes seen with the simple orthographic variant ǀKham, as well as a different grammatical form, ǀKhuai.


Güldemann (2019) lists the following doculects as being well-enough attested to identify as ǀXam.[2]

Label Researcher Date Origin Notes
Nǀuusaa Krönlein 1850s Lower Orange River = D. Bleek label SVIa.
Nǀusa Lloyd 1880 Middle Orange River
ǀXam W. Bleek 1866 Achterveld = Bleek label SI.
ǀXam W. Bleek/Lloyd 1870s Karoo (Strandberg-Katkop) = Bleek label SI.
ǃUi W. Bleek 1857 Colesberg
ǃUi W. Bleek 1857 Burghersdorp
ǃUi Lloyd 1880 Aliwal North

Nǀusa is clearly ǀXam, but Güldemann includes the three eastern ǃUi doculects (extending to Lesotho) under the term "Wider ǀXam".[2]



Compared to other Tuu languages like Taa, ǀXam has a more restricted inventory of consonants particularly the clicks, where there are only 8 series of click accompaniments, far fewer than East ǃXoon Taa's 18.[3] A preliminary consonant inventory of ǀXam, including egressive stops, fricatives, and affricates as well as ingressive clicks, is listed below.

ǀXam consonants[3]
Egressive Ingressive
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Glottal Labial Dental Lateral Alveolar Palatal
Nasal plain m n ŋ ᵑʘ ᵑǀ ᵑǁ ᵑǃ ᵑǂ
Glottalized ᵑʘˀ ᵑǀˀ ᵑǁˀ ᵑǃˀ ᵑǂˀ
Delayed aspiration ᵑʘh ᵑǀh ᵑǁh ᵑǃh ᵑǂh
Plosive tenuis (p) t k ʔ ᵏʘ ᵏǀ ᵏǁ ᵏǃ ᵏǂ
voiced b d ɡ ᶢʘ ᶢǀ ᶢǁ ᶢǃ ᶢǂ
Affricate Aspirated t͡sʰ k͡x ʘ͡kʰ ǀ͡kʰ ǁ͡kʰ ǃ͡kʰ ǂ͡kʰ
Velar frication tx~t͡sx ʘ͡kx ǀ͡kx ǁ͡kx ǃ͡kx ǂ͡kx
Ejective/Ejective contour ~t͡sʼ k͡xʼ ʘ͡kxʼ ǀ͡kxʼ ǁ͡kxʼ ǃ͡kxʼ ǂ͡kxʼ
Fricative s x h
Sonorant w ɾ~l j


The five vowel sounds are noted as [i e a o u] and are found with nasalization ã õ ũ], pharyngealization [ḭ ṵ], and glottalization [iˀ uˀ].[4]

Speech of mythological characters[edit]

Bleek notes that particular animal figures in ǀXam mythology have distinctive speech patterns. For example, Tortoise substitutes clicks with labial non-clicks, Mongoose replaces clicks with ts, tsy, ty, dy etc., and Jackal makes use of a "strange" labial click, "which bears to the ordinary labial click ʘ, a relation in sound similar to that which the palatal click ǂ bears to the cerebral click ǃ". The Moon, and perhaps Hare and Anteater, even use "a most unpronounceable" click in place of all clicks save the bilabial. Other changes noted include the Blue Crane's speech, who ends the first syllable of almost every word with a /t/.[5]

"Fragment about the animal clicks and ways of speaking Bushman"[edit]

  • The jackal has a flat lip click.
  • A kind of side click in the middle of the mouth. (referring to the jackal?)
  • The moon has the joint of the tongue being turned up and back to the roof of the mouth. This click has a kind of palatal click with it.
  • The lion talks with a (?) side click and a (?) guttural with it.
  • The hyena has a flat click.[6]

Motto of South Africa[edit]

The coat of arms of South Africa, with the motto in ǀXam

ǀXam is used for the South African motto on the coat of arms adopted on 27 April 2000:

ǃke e꞉ ǀxarra ǁke

The intended meaning is Diverse people unite or, on a collective scale, Unity in Diversity. The word-for-word translation is people who are different meet.[7] However, it is not known if that phrase would have been idiomatic in ǀXam.[8] Because it is extinct, ǀXam is not one of the twelve official languages of South Africa. Its last speakers died in the 1910s.[9]


  1. ^ Güldemann (2011)
  2. ^ a b Güldemann, Tom (8 January 2019). Toward a subclassification of the ǃUi branch of Tuu (PDF). Afrikalinguistisches Forschungskolloquium. Humboldt Universiät zu Berlin.
  3. ^ a b Vossen, Rainer, ed. (2013). The Khoesan Languages. Psychology Press. p. 210. ISBN 9780700712892.
  4. ^ Vosseler, Annika (26 November 2013). Eine Analyse des Achterveld |Xam Korpus von W. Bleek, 1866 (PDF). Linguistisches Kolloquium des Seminars für Afrikawissenschaften. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 August 2019.
  5. ^ Bleek, W. H. I. (1875). A brief account of Bushman folklore and other texts. Cape Town: Juta. hdl:2263/12485.
  6. ^ "A2_1_43_03356.JPG". The Digital Bleek and Lloyd. Center for Curating the Archive, University of South Africa. 15 October 1873.
  7. ^ Bleek, Dorothea Frances (1956). Bushman dictionary. New Haven: American Oriental Society. pp. 36, 363, 419, 566.
  8. ^ Bleek's Bushman Dictionary records ǃkʼe e꞉ ǀxarra with the meaning 'strangers'.
  9. ^ Traill, Anthony (1995). "Interpreting ǀXam phonology: the need for typological cleansing". In Traill, Anthony; Voßen, Rainer; Biesele, Megan (eds.). The complete linguist: papers in memory of Patrick J. Dickens. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. pp. 509–523.

External links[edit]