!Xu language

Native toNamibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa
Native speakers
All varieties: 77,000 (2015)[1]
  • ǃKung
Latin with click characters
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
vaj – Northern ǃKung
knw – Ekoka ǃKung
ktz – Southern ǃKung
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ǃKung /ˈkʊŋ/[2][3] (ǃXun), 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, ǃKung forms the Kxʼa language family. ǃKung 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.[4]

ǃKung is famous for its many 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 ǃXuun (pronounced [ǃ͡χũː˦˥] in Western ǃKung/ǃXuun) 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.[a]


The term ǃKung, 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. ǃKung is also sometimes used for the northern/northwestern dialects, as opposed to the well documented Juǀʼhoan dialects in the south(east); however speakers of nearly all dialects call themselves ǃKung.

The spellings ǃXun and ǃXuun seen in recent literature are related to the Juǀʼhoan 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, ǃXun, ʗhũ:,[5] and additional spellings of Ju are Dzu, Juu, Zhu.


If the ǃKung dialects are counted together, they would make the third-most-populous click language after Khoekhoe and Sandawe. The most populous ǃKung 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 ǃKung 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.[6] 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.[7]

Only Juǀʼhoan is written, and it is not sufficiently intelligible with the Northwestern dialects for the same literature to be used for both.


The better-known ǃKung dialects are Tsumkwe Juǀʼhoan, Ekoka ǃKung, 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)[]

Heine & Honken (2010) classify the 11 traditionally numbered dialects into three branches of what they consider a single language:

Northern ǃXun
(N1) Maligo (ǃxuun, kúándò ǃxuun "Kwando ǃXuun"; SE Angola)
(N2) ǃʼOǃKung (ǃʼo ǃuŋ "Forest ǃXuun"; eastern C Angola)
Western ǃXun
(W1) — (ǃxūún, ǃʼālè ǃxòān "Valley ǃXuun"; Eenhana district, N Namibia)
(W2) ǀʼAkhwe (ǃxūún, ǀʼākhòè ǃxòān "Kwanyama ǃXuun"; Eenhana, N Namibia)
(W3) Tsintsabis (ǃxūún; Tsintsabis, Tsumeb district, N Namibia)
(K) Kavango ǃXuun (ǃxūún, known as dom ǃxūún "River ǃXuun" in Ekoka; Western Rundu district, N Namibia, & Angola adjacent)
(C1) Gaub (Tsumeb district, N Namibia)
(C2) Neitsas (Grootfontein district, N Namibia)
tentatively also the Tsintsabis, Leeunes and Mangetti (different from Mangetti Dune) dialects
(E1) Juǀʼhoan (ju-ǀʼhoan(-si); Tsumkwe district, N Namibia, & Bots adjacent)
(E2) Dikundu (ǃxun, ju-ǀʼhoa(si); Dikundu, W Caprivi)
(E3) ǂKxʼauǁʼein (ju-ǀʼhoan(-si), ǃxun, ǂxʼāōǁʼàèn "Northern people"; Gobabis district, E Namibia)

Heine & König (2015, p. 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)[]

Sands (2010) classifies ǃKung dialects into four clusters, with the first two being quite close:

ǀʼAkhwe (Ekoka)

ǂKxʼauǁʼein was too poorly attested to classify at the time.

Snyman (1997)[]

A preliminary classification of the !Xũũ and Žuǀ'hõasi dialects by Snyman (1997):[8]


Reconstruction ofǃKung languages

The ancestral language, Proto-Juu or Proto-ǃXuun, 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 ǃKung. In ǀʼAkhwe (Ekoka), the palatal click has become a fricated alveolar.[9][10]

Proto-Juu 'belly' *‼ 'water'
SE (Tsumkwe) ᶢǃű ᶢǃű ǂ
N (Okongo/ǀʼAkhwe) ᶢǃű ᶢǁű
NW (Mangetti Dune) ᶢǃű ᶢǁű ǂ
C (Neitsas/Nurugas) ᶢǃú ᶢ‼ú ǂ

See also[]


  1. ^ For phonology and tones, see list of ǃXun dialect names in Heine & Honken (2010).


  1. ^ Northern ǃKung at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
    Ekoka ǃKung at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
    Southern ǃKung at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ "Kung". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  3. ^ The ⟨ǃ⟩ indicates an alveolar click, which is not pronounced in English.
  4. ^ Haacke 2009
  5. ^ Doke 1926
  6. ^ Suzman 2001
  7. ^ Robins, Madzudzo & Brenzinger 2001
  8. ^ Snyman, Jan Winston. 1997. A preliminary classification of the !Xũũ and Žuǀ'hõasi dialects. In Haacke, Wilfrid and Elderkin, Edward Derek (eds.), Namibian languages: reports and papers, 21-106. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag; University of Namibia (UNAM).
  9. ^ Scott et al. 2010
  10. ^ Miller et al. 2011