Khoisan Languages

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Khoisan Languages
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Khoisan Language family is considered to be the smallest one among all language families in Africa. Nevertheless, exactly the Khoisan languages may well be among the most ancient of all human tongues. Such believe is supported by the fact that according to archeological evidence, the Khoisan people appeared in the region of the southern Africa about 60,000 years ago.

The Khoisan languages were spoken by some of the African ethnic groups who lived in southern African before the Bantu migration and later colonization by Europeans. Frankly speaking, colonization of Africa in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is now believed to be the main reason why some of these ancient languages disappeared. Unfortunately, many of these languages have left behind no written records, so their loss is permanent.

The Khoisan languages have unique grammatical systems. Also, due to the absence of historical data, it is quite hard to define genetic relations between these languages, as well as between the Khoisan and other African languages. For the same reason, we can say that Khoisan languages are considered to be one of the least studied family of languages in the world.

When it comes to the distinctive features of the Khoisan languages, the main one is characterized by the use of click consonants. It is worth to mention that this feature was successfully adopted by other African languages belonging to the Bantu languages – Xhosa and Zulu.

Today, the Khoisan languages have a comparatively small population of speakers and comparatively small area of land where they are spoken. It is possible to find speakers of the Khoisan languages in southwestern Africa, in the region around the Kalahari Desert extending from Angola to South Africa, and in one small area of Tanzania.

It is worth to mention that despite such languages as Hadza and Sandawe are sometimes classified as a part of Khoisan language family, the truth is that they are extremely distant geographically and linguistically from the other Khoisan languages.

Generally, Khoisan languages are divided into 3 main groups: North Khoisan, South Khoisan, and Central Khoisan. Nevertheless, it is worth to mention that each of these three groups consists of mutually intelligible languages. Also, there is little intelligibility between the North and the South Khoisan groups.

Totally, according to Ethnologue, there are 27 Khoisan languages. Nevertheless, it is important to note that just a half of these languages have more than 1,000 speakers. These languages include Sandawe with about 40,000 speakers in Tanzania, San with 16,000 speakers in Namibia, Nama with 233,701 speakers in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, Shua, Tsoa, Gana, Kxoe and some other languages. The rest half of the Khoisan languages have only a few speakers left.

When it comes to the status of Khoisan languages, only the Nama language is recognized as an official language. It is spoken in Namibia, along with other languages, including English. Also, the Nama language is used in education and in the media.

Despite the fact that such languages as Nama and Naro are based on the Latin alphabet, most of the Khoisan languages are unwritten.