Communicating By Clicking – The Khoisan Way


A person can know another person only through communication. Just imagine a world without communication. Will the world exist then? Silly question, isn’t it?

Communication is the connection which brings two persons together. Not only persons, even birds, animals, insects, in fact every living thing depends on one another by communicating in various ways. Communication is a way of life for every living creature. The ability to communicate is one of the big features which sets living things apart from non-living things. Since the beginning of the world, it has moved forward till now only because living creatures have communicated and depended on one another to bring changes with the passage of time.

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Today the world has become a global village. Why is it so? The answer is because of COMMUNICATION. In the good old days, long distance communication was done through letters. With the advancement of civilization, innumerable communication devices were invented by scientific geniuses which made communication easier and comfortable for people which led the world to become a global village.

People communicate with each other by speaking different languages. Deaf and dumb people communicate through sign languages, mostly through facial expressions and hand gestures. But ever heard of a language where people communicate with each other by clicking?

Enter the world of Khoisan languages, a group of African languages, where people communicate with each other by clicking. These languages were mostly spoken in southern and eastern parts of Africa in the ancient times. The Khoisan word is derived from a combination of two words- ‘Khoekhoe’ and ‘San’. In English, ‘Khoekhoe’ refers to person and ‘San’ refers to inhabitants of the bushy areas.

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Basically, the Khoisan languages were spoken by two different nomadic groups known as the  ‘Khoi Khoi’ and the ‘San’. In days of yore, these groups were desert inhabitants of the Kalahari desert and were natives of Botswana and Namibia. Due to water scarcity and vegetation problems, they migrated to South Africa and East Africa where the lands were fertile and started agriculture and hunting as their prime occupations for survival.

Since these nomads needed to go for hunting in the dense forests which were abounded with cries of varieties of animals and birds, they thought that they couldn’t communicate with each other by shouting and human cries would never be heard in forests.  So they founded a way of communicating or giving signals to their fellows through different methods of clicking.

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As time passed by, this way of communication by clicking became their native language. The interesting fact is that the clicks are made with different parts of the body and with different sorts of objects. The Khoisan languages are mostly known for their use of click consonants, also called as phonemes. It is indeed amazing and mysterious that different types of clicks are made in order to convey a word or construct a sentence in the Khoisan languages.

After the Europeans or the white people arrived and started settling in Africa around the 17th century, many of the Khoisan tribes suffered cruelty, neglect and racism in their hands and their population and their rich languages declined sharply. The white people promoted hatred and fear among them and they suffered greatly. Most of their languages are now endangered or extinct. Today, most Khoisan people and linguistic experts are working hard to save the remaining Khoisan languages from extinction.

With so many seminars and courses going on for development of communication skills in educational, corporate and non-corporate institutions, it is hard to believe that there is a language where clicking is the main feature. Thus, it is quite true that the languages and culture of different tribes are very interesting and something worthwhile for research.


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