Sandawe language

Sandawe language

fam1=Khoe-Sandawe (tentative)
region=Rift Valley
speakers=c. 40,000

Sandawe or Sandawi is a tonal language spoken by about 40,000 Sandawe people in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. Language use is vigorous among both adults and children, with people in some areas monolingual. Sandawe has generally been classified as a Khoisan language since Albert Drexel in the 1920s, due at first just to the presence of clicks in the language. Recent investigations (Güldemann forthcoming) show that Sandawe is most likely related to the Khoe family regardless of the validity of Khoesan as a whole. A recent discussion of Sandawe's linguistic classification can be found in Sands (1998).

SIL International began work on Sandawe in 1996 and to date (2004), Daniel and Elisabeth Hunziker and Helen Eaton continue to work on the analysis of the language. They have so far produced a phonological description, a dialect survey report and several papers on aspects of grammar. Sandawe is also currently (since 2002) studied by Sander Steeman of Leiden University.



Sandawe has five vowel qualities:


(source: Wright "et al." 1995)

yllable structure

Sandawe syllables are usually of the form CV; in monosyllabic words, word-final nasals are not uncommon, CV(N). Sometimes other consonants are found in word-final position, but this is most probably the result of deletion of word-final voiceless vowels.A syllabic nasal "m" is found in Swahili loanwords. The most common word structure is disyllabic with or without long vowels (CV(ː)CV(ː)), according to De Voogt (1992).


A noun consists generally of a stem and a suffix which indicates gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular, plural).

[suffixes to be added]


The same roots may be used as adjectives or verbs according to Kagaya (1993:ix).


Basic word order in Sandawe is SOV according to De Voogt (1992). However, word order in the Sandawe sentence is very flexible due to the presence of several 'subject identification strategies'.

Sample sentence (mid tones are not marked):

úte-s kxʼaré-és hàʔǃà yesterday-I boy-I called "Yesterday I called a boy" (source: De Voogt 1992:19 adapted from Tucker 1977)


Elderkin (1989) analyzes Sandawe as having two level tones (High, Low) and two contour tones (Falling, Rising). His thesis considers the behavior of tone at word-, sentence- and discourse-level. De Voogt (1992) and Kagaya (1993) list three level tones (High, Mid, Low) and two contour tones (Falling, Rising).


The most promising candidate as a relative of Sandawe are the Khoe languages of Botswana and Namibia. Most of the putative cognates Greenberg (1976) gives as evidence for Sandawe being a Khoesan language in fact tie Sandawe to Khoe. Recently Gueldemann and Elderkin have strengthened that connection, with several dozen likely cognates, while casting doubts on other Khoisan connections. Although there are not enough similarities to reconstruct a Proto-Khoe-Sandawe language, there are enough to suggest that the connection is real.

The pronominal system is quite similar:

These may cast some interesting light on the development of clicks. For example, the Sandawe word for 'horn', "tlana," may be a cognate with the root "n||â" found throughout the Khoe family. This and other words suggests that clicks may form from consonant clusters when the first vowel of a word is lost: "tlana > tlna > ||na (n||a)."

Since the Khoe family appears to have migrated to southern Africa from the northeast, it may be that Sandawe is closer to their common homeland than the modern Khoe languages are.

:"On the external relationships of the Khoe family". Tom Güldemann and Edward Elderkin.

Further reading


*Dobashi, Yoshihito (2001) 'Agreement and Word Order in Sandawe' In "Cornell Working Papers in Linguistics", 2001, 18, pp 57-74.
*Eaton, Helen C. (2002) 'A Grammar of Focus in Sandawe' (Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Reading).
*Elderkin, Edward D. (1989) 'The Significance and Origin of the Use of Pitch in Sandawe' (Unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of York).
*Kagaya, Ryohei (1993) 'A Classified Vocabulary of The Sandawe Language', "Asian & African Lexicon" vol 26. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).
*Sands, Bonny E. (1998) 'Eastern and Southern African Khoisan: evaluating claims of distant linguistic relationships.' Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung 14. Köln: Köppe.
*Voogt, A.J. de (1992) "Some phonetic aspects of Hatsa and Sandawe clicks" (Unpublished MA thesis in African Linguistics, Leiden University).
*Wright, Richard, Ian Maddieson, Peter Ladefoged, Bonny Sands (1995). 'A phonetic study of Sandawe clicks', "UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics", No. 91: "Fieldwork Studies in Targeted Languages III".

ee also

*Hadza language
*Khoisan languages
*Joseph Greenberg
*Click language

External links

* [ Sandawe grammar at Cornell]
* [ Sandawe wordlists and accompanying soundfiles at UCLA]
* [ Ethnologue Report for Sandawe]
* [ SIL International]
* [ Helen Eaton] "More information on SIL International's work on Sandawe, with papers for downloading."

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