!Kung language

!Kung language
ǃXun, Ju, Zhu
Northern Khoisan (obsolete)
Spoken in  Namibia
 South Africa
Ethnicity !Kung people
Native speakers ~45,000[citation needed]  (date missing)
Language family
  • ǃKung
Language codes
ISO 639-3 variously:
oun – ǃʼOǃKung
mwj – Maligo
knw – ǀʼAkhwe
vaj – Vasekela (spurious)
ktz – Juǀʼhoansi
aue – ǂKxʼauǁʼein
gfx – Mangetti Dune

!Kung or !Xun, also called Ju,[1] is a dialect continuum (language complex) spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and Angola by the !Kung people. Together with the ǂHoan language, it forms the Kx'a language family. !Kung constitutes one of the branches of a putative Khoisan language family, and is called Northern Khoisan in that scenario, but the unity of Khoisan has never been demonstrated and is suspected to be spurious. Nonetheless, the term "Khoisan" is widely retained as a convenience.[citation needed]

!Kung is famous for having a large number of clicks, and has some of the most complex inventories of both consonants and vowels in the world. It also has tone. For a description, see Juǀʼhoansi.



!Kung, if considered a single language, is the second or third most populous Khoisan language after Nama and perhaps Sandawe.

Estimates vary, but there are perhaps 30–60 thousand speakers.[citation needed] There is much confusion with the names of Khoisan languages, with the result that dialects may be counted more than once; thus Ethnologue reports 6,000 speakers of ǃʼOǃKung, 7,000 of !Kung-Ekoka (|Akhwe), and over 60,000 speakers of "Vasekela Bushman", but then identifies Vasekela as ǃʼOǃKung and suggests that it may be the same as !Kung-Ekoka as well. In addition, they report 34,000 speakers of Juǀʼhoan, 7,000 of ǂKxʼauǁʼein, and 2,000 of Maligo, but do not give separate figures for the central dialects.

Until the mid–late twentieth century, the ǃʼOǃKung and Maligo dialects were widespread in southern and central Angola. However, most !Kung fled the civil war to Namibia (primarily to the Caprivi Strip) and to South Africa. Botswana hosts a minority of Juǀʼhoan speakers, but Namibia is today the center of the !Kung people and language.


The better-known !Kung dialects are ǃʼOǃKung, Tsumkwe Juǀʼhoan, and ǂKxʼauǁʼein. Scholars distinguish between eleven and fifteen dialects, which may not be mutually intelligible when not adjacent, but there are no clear-cut distinctions between them at our present state of knowledge.

Sands et al. classify !Kung varieties into four clusters:

  • Northern Ju: Southern Angola, around the Cunene, Cubango, Cuito, and Cuando rivers, but with many refugees now in Namibia:
  • North-Central Ju: Namibia, between the Ovambo River and the Angolan border, around the tributaries of the Okavango River east of Rundu to the Etosha Pan:
ǀʼAkhwe (Ekoka)

ǂKxʼauǁʼein is too poorly attested to assign a place within this classification; if it belongs to one of these four groups, it is presumably Southeastern.

Heine & Honken (2010) classify 11 varieties into three branches:[2]

  • Northern–Western !Xun
Northern !Xun
Maligo [mwj] (!xuun, kúándò !xuun "Kwando !Xun"; SE Angola)
ǃʼOǃKung [oun] (!ʼo !uŋ "Forest !Xun"; eastern C Angola)
Western !Xun [knw] (Kung-Ekoka)
— (!xūún, !ʼālè !xòān "Valley !Xun"; Eenhana district, N Namibia)
|Akhwe (!xūún, ǀʼākhòè !xòān "Kwanyama !Xun"; Eenhana, N Namibia)
Tsintsabis (!xūún; Tsintsabis, Tsumeb district, N Namibia)
Kavango !Xun (!xūún, known as dom !xūún "River !Xun" in Ekoka; Western Rundu district, N Namibia, & Angola adjacent)
  • Central !Xun [poorly attested]
Gaub (Tsumeb district, N Namibia)
Neitsas (Grootfontein district, N Namibia)
  • Southeastern !Xun
Juǀʼhoan [ktz] (ju-|ʼhoan(-si); Tsumkwe district, N Namibiba, & Bots adjacent)
Dikundu (!xun, ju-|ʼhoa(si); Dikundu, W Caprivi)
ǂKxʼauǁʼein [aue] (ju-|ʼhoan(-si), !xun, ǂxʼāōǁʼàèn "Northern people"; Gobabis district, E Namibia)

Ethnologue 16 assigns an iso code to "Vasekela Bushman", vaj, which has no clear identity and may be synonymous with !Kung as a whole.


The ancestral language, Proto-Juu or Proto-!Xun, had five places of click articulation: Dental, alveolar, palatal, alveolar lateral, and retroflex (*ǃ˞ or *‼). The retroflex clicks have dropped out of Southeastern dialects such as Juǀʼhoan, but remain in Central !Kung.

Proto-Juu 'belly' *ǃ˞ (‼) 'water'
SE (Tsumkwe) ᶢǃű ᶢǃű
N (Okongo) ᶢǃű ᶢǁű
NW (Mangetti Dune) ᶢǃű ᶢǁ̪ű (|||)
C (Neitsas/Nurugas) ᶢǃú ᶢǃ˞ú (‼)

In ǀʼAkhwe (Ekoka), the palatal click has become a fricated alveolar.


  1. ^ The term !Kung is typically used when considering the dialects to constitute a single language; Ju tends to be used when considering them as a language family. The term !Kung is also sometimes used for the northern or northern and western dialects, as opposed to the well documented Juǀʼhoansi in the southeast; however speakers of nearly all dialects call themselves !Xun (!Kung).
    Additional spellings of !Kung / !Xun are ǃHu, ǃKhung, ǃKu, Kung, Qxü, ǃung, ǃXo, Xû, ǃXû, Xun, ǃXung, ǃXũũ, !Xuun, and additional spellings of Ju are Dzu, Juu, Zhu for the second.
  2. ^ Heine, B. and Honken, H. 2010. "The Kx'a Family: A New Khoisan Genealogy". Journal of Asian and African Studies (Tokyo), 79, p. 5–36.

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