Tshwa language

Last updated
Native to Botswana, Zimbabwe
Native speakers
2,000 (2013) [1]
Khoisan (Umbrella term)
  • Khoe
    • Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe)
      • East
        • Tsoa
  • Hiechware
  • Kua
  • Cire Cire
Official status
Official language in
Flag of Zimbabwe.svg  Zimbabwe (as 'Khoisan')
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
hio   Tsoa
tyu   Kua
Glottolog tshw1239
ELP Tshwa
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Tsoa or Tshwa, also known as Kua and Hiechware, is an East Kalahari Khoe dialect cluster spoken by several thousand people in Botswana and Zimbabwe.


One of the dialects is Tjwao (formerly Tshwao), the only Khoisan language in Zimbabwe, where "Koisan" is a language officially recognised in the constitution.


Tsoa–Kua is a dialect cluster, which is still poorly studied but seems to include:


The Cire-cire (not cited) dialect has the following consonant inventory:

Consonant phonemes of the Cire-cire dialect (not cited)
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Lateral Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
Click nasal ᵑǀ ( ᵑǃ ) ᵑǁ ( ᵑǂ )
voiceless ᵏǀ ( ᵏǃ ) ᵏǁ ( ᵏǂ )
voiced ᶢǀ ( ᶢǃ ) ᶢǁ ( ᶢǂ )
glottalized ᵑǀˀ ᵑǁˀ
affricate (ǀqχ)(ǁqχ)
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k q ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless s ʃ χ
voiced z
Approximant l

The clicks have a very uneven distribution: Only a dozen words begin with one of the palatal clicks (ǂ), and these are replaced by dental clicks (ǀ) among younger speakers. Only half a dozen words start with one of the alveolar clicks (ǃ), and half a dozen more with one of the affricated clicks. These rather marginal sounds are placed in parentheses in the chart.

front back
high i u
mid e o
low a

Tsoa has the five vowels /a e i o u/. It is not clear if Tsoa has long vowels, or simply sequences of identical vowels /aa ee ii oo uu/.

There are two tones, high and low, plus a few cases of mid tone.

In the northern dialect of Kua, like all other East Kalahari Khoe languages, the palatal click series has become palatal stops. Southern Kua has retained the palatal clicks, but the dental stops have palatalized, as they have in Gǀui and ǂʼAmkoe. Thus northern Kua has /ɟua/ 'ash' and /d̪u/ 'eland', whereas southern Kua has ᶢǂua 'ash' and /d̪ʲu/ (or perhaps /ɟu/) 'eland'. [2]

Related Research Articles

Click consonants, or clicks, are speech sounds that occur as consonants in many languages of Southern Africa and in three languages of East Africa. Examples familiar to English-speakers are the Tut-tut or Tsk! Tsk! used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the clip-clop! sound children make with their tongue to imitate a horse trotting.

Khoisan languages Group of African language families with click consonants

The Khoisan languages are a group of African languages originally classified together by Joseph Greenberg. Khoisan languages share click consonants and do not belong to other African language families. For much of the 20th century, they were thought to be genealogically related to each other, but this is no longer accepted. They are now held to comprise three distinct language families and two language isolates.

Tswana language Bantu language of Botswana and South Africa

Tswana, also known by its native name Setswana, is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa by about 8.2 million people. It belongs to the Bantu language family within the Sotho-Tswana branch of Zone S (S.30), and is closely related to the Northern Sotho and Southern Sotho languages, as well as the Kgalagadi language and the Lozi language.

Taa language Tuu language of southwestern Botswana and eastern Namibia

Taa, also known as ǃXóõ is a Tuu language notable for its large number of phonemes, perhaps the largest in the world. It is also notable for having perhaps the heaviest functional load of click consonants, with one count finding that 82% of basic vocabulary items started with a click. Most speakers live in Botswana, but a few hundred live in Namibia. The people call themselves ǃXoon or ʼNǀohan, depending on the dialect they speak. The Tuu languages are one of the three traditional language families that make up the Khoisan languages.

Nǁng[ᵑǁŋ] or Nǁŋǃke, commonly known by the name of its dialect Nǀuu (Nǀhuki), is a moribund Tuu (Khoisan) language once spoken in South Africa. It is no longer spoken on a daily basis, as the speakers live in different villages. The dialect name ǂKhomani is used for the entire people by the South African government, but the descendants of ǂKhomani-dialect speakers now speak Khoikhoi. As of June 2021, only one speaker of the Nǀuu dialect and two of the ǁʼAu dialect remain.

Khoekhoe language Khoe language spoken in southern Africa

The Khoekhoe language, also known by the ethnic terms Nama (Namagowab), Damara (ǂNūkhoegowab), or Nama/Damara and formerly as Hottentot, is the most widespread of the non-Bantu languages of Southern Africa that make heavy use of click consonants and therefore were formerly classified as Khoisan, a grouping now recognized as obsolete. It belongs to the Khoe language family, and is spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa primarily by three ethnic groups, Namakhoen, ǂNūkhoen, and Haiǁomkhoen.

ǂʼAmkoe, formerly called by the dialectal name ǂHoan, is a severely endangered Kxʼa language of Botswana. West ǂʼAmkoe, Taa, and Gǀui form the core of the Kalahari Basin sprachbund, and share a number of characteristic features, including some of the largest consonant inventories in the world. ǂʼAmkoe was shown to be related to the Juu languages by Honken and Heine (2010), which have since been classified together in the Kxʼa language family.

Naro, also Nharo, is a Khoe language spoken in Ghanzi District of Botswana and in eastern Namibia. It is probably the most-spoken of the Tshu–Khwe languages. Naro is a trade language among speakers of different Khoe languages in Ghanzi District. There exists a dictionary.

Gǀui or Gǀwi is a Khoe dialect of Botswana with 2,500 speakers. It is part of the Gǁana dialect cluster, and is closely related to Naro. It has a number of loan words from ǂʼAmkoe. Gǀui, ǂʼAmkoe, and Taa form the core of the Kalahari Basin sprachbund, and share a number of characteristic features, including extremely large consonant inventories.

Sandawe language Khoisan language of central Tanzania

Sandawe is a language spoken by about 60,000 Sandawe people in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania. Sandawe's use of click consonants, a rare feature shared with only two other language of East Africa – Hadza and Dahalo, had been the basis of its classification as a member of the defunct Khoisan family of Southern Africa since Albert Drexel in the 1920s. Recent investigations however suggest that Sandawe may be related to the Khoe family regardless of the validity of Khoisan as a whole. A discussion of Sandawe's linguistic classification can be found in Sands (1998).

ǃKung (ǃXun), also known as Ju, is a dialect continuum spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and Angola by the ǃKung people, constituting two or three languages. Together with the ǂʼAmkoe language, ǃKung forms the Kxʼa language family. ǃKung constituted one of the branches of the putative Khoisan language family, and was called Northern Khoisan in that scenario, but the unity of Khoisan has never been demonstrated and is now regarded as spurious. Nonetheless, the anthropological term "Khoisan" has been retained as an umbrella term for click languages in general.

Tuu languages language family of Botswana and South Africa

The Tuu languages, or Taa–ǃKwilanguages, are a language family consisting of two language clusters spoken in Botswana and South Africa. The relationship between the two clusters is not doubted but is not close. The name Tuu comes from a word for "person" common to both branches of the family.

The Khoe languages are the largest of the non-Bantu language families indigenous to southern Africa. They were once considered to be a branch of a Khoisan language family, and were known as Central Khoisan in that scenario. Though Khoisan is now rejected as a family, the name is retained as a term of convenience.

The phonology of Bengali, like that of its neighbouring Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, is characterised by a wide variety of diphthongs and inherent back vowels.

Kxʼa languages language family

The Kxʼa languages, also called Ju–ǂHoan, is a language family established in 2010 linking the ǂʼAmkoe (ǂHoan) language with the ǃKung (Juu) dialect cluster, a relationship that had been suspected for a decade. Along with the Tuu languages and Khoe languages, they are one of three language families indigenous to southern Africa, which are typologically similar due to areal effects.

Yeyi is a Bantu language spoken by many of the approximately 50,000 Yeyi people along the Okavango River in Namibia and Botswana. Yeyi, influenced by Juu languages, is one of several Bantu languages along the Okavango with clicks. Indeed, it has the largest known inventory of clicks of any Bantu language, with dental, alveolar, palatal, and lateral articulations. Though most of its older speakers prefer Yeyi in normal conversation, it is being gradually phased out in Botswana by a popular move towards Tswana, with Yeyi only being learned by children in a few villages. Yeyi speakers in the Caprivi Strip of north-eastern Namibia, however, retain Yeyi in villages, but may also speak the regional lingua franca, Lozi.

Languages of Botswana

The official languages of Botswana are English and Tswana. English, which was inherited from colonial rule, is the language of official business and most written communication. Most of the population speak Tswana, but over 20 smaller languages are also spoken. Some of the country's languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Ekoka ǃKung or Western ǃXuun is a variety of the ǃKung dialect cluster, spoken originally in the area of the central Namibian–Angolan border, west of the Okavango River, but since the Angolan Civil War also in South Africa.

Tjwao is an endangered Khoe language spoken by fewer than 20 people in the Tsholotsho District of Zimbabwe, all over 60 years of age. A slightly larger group of 100 have passive or partial knowledge of the language.

KUA is the IATA code for Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport, an airport in Malaysia.


  1. "Tsoa". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  2. Gerlach, Linda (2015) "Phonetic and phonological description of the Nǃaqriaxe variety of ǂʼAmkoe and the impact of language contact". PhD dissertation, Humboldt University, Berlin


Vossen, Rainer (ed.). 2013a. The Khoesan Languages. London & New York: Routledge.