Prehistoric Bantu-Khoisan language contact

A cross-disciplinary approach

in Language Dynamics and Change
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Click consonants are one of the hallmarks of “Khoisan” languages of southern Africa. They are also found in some Bantu languages, where they are usually assumed to have been copied from Khoisan languages. We review the southern African Bantu languages with clicks and discuss in what way they may have obtained these unusual consonants. We draw on both linguistic data and genetic results to gain insights into the sociocultural processes that may have played a role in the prehistoric contact. Our results show that the copying of clicks accompanied large-scale inmarriage of Khoisan women into Bantu-speaking communities and took place in situations where the Khoisan communities may have had relatively high prestige. In the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier region, these events must have occurred at an early stage of the Bantu immigration, possibly because small groups of food producers entering a new territory were dependent on the autochthonous communities for local knowledge.

Prehistoric Bantu-Khoisan language contact

A cross-disciplinary approach

in Language Dynamics and Change




Moeketsi (1991) lists a few ideophones with nasal lateral and dental clicks but these are not included in the totals of Southern Sotho click types and phonemes.


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    Figure 1

    Approximate distribution of the Bantu languages in southern Africa mentioned in the text: with clicks as regular consonants (red), with marginal clicks (green), and without click consonants (black)

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    Figure 2a

    Proportion of autochthonous genetic lineages (black) in Bantu-speaking populations of southern Africa. The populations speaking click languages are labelled in red. Abbreviations: AMB = Ambo (aka Ovambo); BIS = Bisa; CHO = Chopi; CHW = Chwabo; GAN = Ganguela; HER = Herero; HIM = Himba; KAL = Kalanga; KGA = Kgalagadi; KUN = Kunda; KUV = Kuvale; KWA = Kwamashi; MAK = Makhuwa; MKND = Makonde; MBU = Mbukushu; NDA = Ndau; NDE = Ndebele; NGU = Nguni; NKO = Nkoya; NYAK = Nyaneka; NYAJ = Nyanja; NYU = Nyungwe; OVI = Ovimbundu; RON = Ronga; SEN = Sena; SHNG = Shangaan; SHA = Shanjo; SHO = Shona; SOT = Sotho; SUB = Subiya; THE = Thembu; TNG = Tonga (Mozambique); TON = Tonga (Zambia); TOT = Totela; TSW = Tswana; XHO = Xhosa; ZUL = Zulu. A. Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups L0d and L0k.Data from: Salas et al. (2002); Castri et al. (2009); Coelho et al. (2009); de Filippo et al. (2010); Barbieri et al. (2013b); Barbieri et al. (2014a); Barbieri et al. (2014b); Marks et al. (2015)

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    Figure 2b

    Y-chromosomal haplogroups A3b1 and B2bData from: Wood et al. (2005); Coelho et al. (2009); de Filippo et al. (2010); Marks et al. (2015); Bajić et al. (in preparation)


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