Tshwa language

Native toBotswana, Zimbabwe
Native speakers
2,000 (2013)[1]
Khoisan (Umbrella term)
  • Khoe
    • Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe)
      • East
        • Tsoa
  • Hiechware
  • Kua
  • Cire Cire
Official status
Official language in
 Zimbabwe (as 'Khoisan')
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
hio – Tsoa
tyu – Kua
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Tsoa or Tshwa, also known as Kua and Hiechware, is an East Kalahari Khoe dialect cluster spoken by several thousand people in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

One of the dialects is Tjwao (formerly Tshwao), the only Khoisan language in Zimbabwe, where "Koisan" is a language officially recognised in the constitution.


Tsoa–Kua is a dialect cluster, which is still poorly studied but seems to include:


The Cire-cire (not cited) dialect has the following consonant inventory:

Consonant phonemes of the Cire-cire dialect (not cited)
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Lateral Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
Click nasal ᵑǀ (ᵑǃ) ᵑǁ (ᵑǂ)
voiceless ᵏǀ (ᵏǃ) ᵏǁ (ᵏǂ)
voiced ᶢǀ (ᶢǃ) ᶢǁ (ᶢǂ)
aspirated ǀʰ (ǃʰ) ǁʰ (ǂʰ)
glottalized ᵑǀˀ ᵑǁˀ
affricate (ǀqχ) (ǁqχ)
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k q ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless s ʃ χ
voiced z
Approximant l

The clicks have a very uneven distribution: Only a dozen words begin with one of the palatal clicks (ǂ), and these are replaced by dental clicks (ǀ) among younger speakers. Only half a dozen words start with one of the alveolar clicks (ǃ), and half a dozen more with one of the affricated clicks. These rather marginal sounds are placed in parentheses in the chart.

front back
high i u
mid e o
low a

Tsoa has the five vowels /a e i o u/. It is not clear if Tsoa has long vowels, or simply sequences of identical vowels /aa ee ii oo uu/.

There are two tones, high and low, plus a few cases of mid tone.

In the northern dialect of Kua, like all other East Kalahari Khoe languages, the palatal click series has become palatal stops. Southern Kua has retained the palatal clicks, but the dental stops have palatalized, as they have in Gǀui and ǂʼAmkoe. Thus northern Kua has /ɟua/ 'ash' and /d̪u/ 'eland', whereas southern Kua has ᶢǂua 'ash' and /d̪ʲu/ (or perhaps /ɟu/) 'eland'.[2]


  1. ^ "Tsoa". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  2. ^ Gerlach, Linda (2015) "Phonetic and phonological description of the Nǃaqriaxe variety of ǂʼAmkoe and the impact of language contact". PhD dissertation, Humboldt University, Berlin


Vossen, Rainer (ed.). 2013a. The Khoesan Languages. London & New York: Routledge.

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