Feb 23, 2012

Xhosa is hard to say

Over at The The Crux, Julie Sedivy has an interesting breakdown of how clicks are used in both African languages and English:
If clicks do sound like exotic noises to you, it might surprise you to know that there’s nothing especially difficult about making click sounds in speech—they’re easily mastered by toddlers who still struggle making truly difficult sounds like s and z. And it might really surprise you to learn, as found in a recent study by Melissa Wright at Birmingham City University, that as an English speaker, you likely riddle your own speech with click sounds, using them much more frequently and systematically than just the occasional “tsk” of disapproval. If that’s so, why on earth do the African clicks sound so strange to English speakers, to the point of being un-language-like?
It's a good post, and that might be an easy thing for toddlers to learn, but as a grown adult, it is devilishly tricky to master even the three basic click sounds in Zulu and Xhosa. Especially the "q" sound, which involves popping your tongue off the roof of your mouth. During a vacation in Eastern Cape once, it took me hours of practice to just be able to make the noise right, let alone stick it in a word with anything approaching accuracy.


  1. Hi Ryan, really liked this small piece on Xhosa and click language. I would like to share it with my history Prof at PU, but I don't know how exactly. Can you help? Thanks, B
    PS: Congrats on becoming the Business Manager of Washington Monthly.

  2. Well, it's just a temp job for the time being. Might only last a couple more weeks. Getting paid sure is nice though.

    As far as sharing it, you can use the little bar at the bottom (to the left of "Recommend this on Google"), or you can just email the link http://www.ryanlouiscooper.com/2012/02/xhosa-is-hard-to-say.html

    Does that answer your question?

    1. Yes, thanks, Ryan. I appreciate it. Sorry for my ignorance, B.

    2. Hah, no worries! I'm here for my loyal fans :)