|Native to||Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa|
|16,000 ± 2,000 (2011)|
!Kung // (!Xun), also known as Ju, is a dialect continuum (language complex) spoken in Namibia, Botswana, and Angola by the ǃKung people, constituting two or three languages. Together with the ǂʼAmkoe language, !Kung forms the Kxʼa language family. !Kung constituted one of the branches of the putative Khoisan language family, and was called Northern Khoisan in that scenario, but the unity of Khoisan has never been demonstrated and is now regarded as spurious. Nonetheless, the anthropological term "Khoisan" has been retained as an umbrella term for click languages in general.
!Kung is famous for having a large number of clicks, such as the ǃ in its name, and has some of the most complex inventories of both consonants and vowels in the world. It also has tone. For a description, see Juǀʼhoan. To pronounce !Xuun (pronounced [!͡χũː˦˥] in Western !Kung/!Xuun) one makes a click sound before the x sound (which is like a Scottish or German ch), followed by a long nasal u vowel with a high rising tone.[nb 1]
The term !Kung, or variants thereof, is typically used when considering the dialects to constitute a single language; Ju tends to be used when considering them as a small language family. !Kung is also sometimes used for the northern/northwestern dialects, as opposed to the well documented Ju|ʼhoan dialects in the south(east); however speakers of nearly all dialects call themselves !Kung.
The spellings !Xun and !Xuun seen in recent literature are related to the Ju|ʼhoan form spelled ǃXʼu(u)n in the 1975 orthography, or ǃKu(u)n in current orthography. Additional spellings are ǃHu, ǃKhung, ǃKu, Kung, Qxü, ǃung, ǃXo, Xû, ǃXû, Xun, ǃXung, ǃXũũ, !Xun, ʗhũ:, and additional spellings of Ju are Dzu, Juu, Zhu.
If the !Kung dialects are counted together, they would make the third-most-populous click language after Khoekhoe and Sandawe. The most populous !Kung variety, Juǀʼhoan, is perhaps tied for third place with Naro.
Estimates vary, but there are probably around 15,000 speakers. Counting is difficult because speakers are scattered on farms, interspersed with speakers of other languages, but Brenzinger (2011) counts 9,000 in Namibia, 2,000 in Botswana, 3,700 in South Africa and 1,000 in Angola (down from perhaps 8,000 in 1975).
Until the mid–late twentieth century, the northern dialects were widespread in southern and central Angola. However, most !Kung fled the Angolan Civil War to Namibia (primarily to the Caprivi Strip), where they were recruited into the South African Defence Force special forces against the Angolan Army and SWAPO. At the end of the Border War, more than one thousand fighters and their families were relocated to Schmidtsdrift in South Africa amid uncertainty over their future in Namibia. After more than a decade living in precarious conditions, the post-Apartheid government bought and donated land for a permanent settlement at Platfontein, near Schmidtsdrift.
Only Ju|'hoan is written, and it is not sufficiently intelligible with the Northwestern dialects for the same literature to be used for both.
The better-known !Kung dialects are Tsumkwe Juǀʼhoan, Ekoka !Kung, ǃʼOǃKung, and ǂKxʼauǁʼein. Scholars distinguish between eleven and fifteen dialects, but the boundaries are unclear. There is a clear distinction between North/Northwest vs South/Southeast, but also a diverse Central group that is poorly attested.
Heine & Honken (2010) classify the 11 traditionally numbered dialects into three branches of what they consider a single language:
Heine & König (2015.324) state that speakers of all Northwestern dialects "understand one another to quite some extent" but that they do not understand any of the Southeastern dialects.
Sands (2010) classifies !Kung dialects into four clusters, with the first two being quite close:
ǂKxʼauǁʼein was too poorly attested to classify at the time.
The ancestral language, Proto-Juu or Proto-!Xuun, had five places of click articulation: Dental, alveolar, palatal, alveolar lateral, and retroflex (*‼). The retroflex clicks have dropped out of Southeastern dialects such as Juǀʼhoan, but remain in Central !Kung. In ǀʼAkhwe (Ekoka), the palatal click has become a fricated alveolar.
|Proto-Juu||*ǃ 'belly'||*‼ 'water'||*ǂ|
|NW (Mangetti Dune)||ᶢǃű||ᶢǁű||ǂ|