Tuu languages

The Tuu or Taa-ǃKwi (Taa-ǃUi, ǃUi-Taa, Kwi) languages are a language family consisting of two language clusters spoken in Botswana and South Africa. The relationship between the two is not doubted, but is not close. The name Tuu comes from a word for person common to both branches of the family. The Tuu languages form in turn one branch of a proposed Khoisan language family, and are called Southern Khoisan in that scenario. However, no convincing evidence has ever been produced for this classification.

  • Taa
    • ǃXóõ (4200 speakers. A dialect cluster.)
    • Lower Nossob (Two dialects, ǀʼAuni and ǀHaasi. Extinct.)
  • ǃKwi
    • Nǁng (A dialect cluster. Moribund, with 8 Nǀu speakers.)
    • ǀXam (A dialect cluster. Extinct.)
    • ǂUngkue (A dialect cluster. Extinct.)
    • ǁXegwi (Extinct.)

The ǃKwi branch of South Africa is moribund, with only one language remaining, Nǀuu, and that with only a dozen elderly speakers. ǃKwi languages were once widespread across South Africa; the most famous, ǀXam, was the source of the modern national motto of that nation, .

The Taa branch of Botswana is more robust, though it also has one surviving language, ǃXóõ, with 4200 speakers.

The family was once thought to include the (East) ǂHõã language, but this may instead be related to the Juu family and is best considered unclassified for now. There are great similarities between the Tuu and Juu families, which many put down to areal influence.

The Tuu languages, along with ǂHõã, are known for being the only languages in the world to have bilabial clicks as distinctive speech sounds, apart from the extinct ritual jargon Damin of northern Australia. They also have some of the most complex inventories of both consonants and vowels in the world, as well as tone.

Because many of the Tuu languages became extinct with little record, there is considerable confusion as to which of their many names represented separate languages or even dialects. See List of Khoisan languages for some possibilities.

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