Inquiring Minds - Click Languages

Flagstaff, AZ – There are said to be as many as 6,000 languages. With 90 percent of the world speaking only four percent of these languages, NAU professor Bonny Sands says many are in danger of becoming extinct.

"The language Ju|hoan that I've worked on in South Africa has only 10 speakers. They are all over the age of 65."

An NAU English professor, Sands studies click languages spoken near the Kalahari Desert.

"In !XUN, ||a, g||a and n||a are three different consonants."

She's documenting what she calls a treasure trove of cultural knowledge, creating dictionaries where none exist.

"Sometimes we think click languages are more primitive than English, that they don't have as many words, but look at =Hoan . Look at all the word for "carry." ||aa'a means to carry on your head. !ani'a is to carry on your shoulder. g||a'm is to carry on your shoulder with a strap, like a purse."

To discover how the sounds are made, Sands uses a process called palatography. A mixture of charcoal and oil painted on the tongue marks what parts of the mouth are used.

Sands helps NAU students understand that we all use clicks. We might say ||, || when we want a horse to move.

"I think everyone can make a bilabial click. It's just the sound you make when you kiss."