The southwestern Kalahari Khoe languages of the Gǁana and Naro groups

Background and Aim

The associated project will investigate the southwestern Kalahari Khoe languages which are closely related to each other and classified heretofore under two groups, namely Naro (comprising Naro and ǂHaba, against its current classification with the Gǁana group) and Gǁana (comprising Gǀui, Gǁana, and Tshila). Of these languages, Naro has a relatively long tradition of research mainly by anthropologists and missionaries; Gǀui is well-described regarding selected linguistic aspects such as phonetics-phonology and sociolinguistics (see Nakagawa 2006a, b); Gǁana is poorly documented; and ǂHaba and Tshila are virtually undescribed.

The present project aims at a fuller linguistic investigation of the two groups as a whole with an emphasis on (i) a careful linguistic documentation of the three less described languages mentioned above, (ii) a detailed historical-comparative study on all the varieties, (iii) a linguistic and anthropological analysis of the kinship systems in these groups, and (iv) the identification of possible linguistic evidence for language contact history. This project will thus contribute to a more extensive historical reconstruction of these Kalahari Khoe subgroups, which in turn can be utilized for historical research in the area as a whole.

The associated project will collaborate in particular with IP1, IP3, IP4, and IP5 by providing them with detailed linguistic and anthropological data on the Naro and Gǀui-Gǁana groups and at the same time by using their research results for a more extensive reconstruction of this Kalahari Khoe subgroup and thus a better understanding of its overall population history.

Main research topics

(I) Language contact between the Naro-Gǀui group and Non-Khoe languages:

Language contact has been diagnosed between the languages of the Gǀui-Gǁana group and genealogically unrelated languages of the Tuu and Ju-ǂHoan families (Traill & Nakagawa 2000, Nakagawa 2006a, Honken forthcoming), which indicates that there is a Central Kalahari linguistic area. In particular, East !Xoon of the Taa branch of Tuu seems to have expanded historically on earlier Gǀui-speaking territory, evidenced by lexical and toponymic analysis. Also, Gǀui, ǂHoan and Eastern Taa, which belong to three different families, seem to share a considerable amount of lexical items pointing to different types of language contact between them. Based on a more in-depth linguistic documentation of the Kalahari Khoe languages concerned and a comparison with the data investigated by IP3 on Taa and IP4 on ǂHoan, the Central Kalahari language contact zone will be characterized in more detail and precision.

(II) Language contact with languages of Kalahari Khoe East (Shua-Tshwa branch):

Voßen (1997: 393-4) has commented on language contact of Gǀui-Gǁana towards the east with genealogically related but distinct Kalahari Khoe languages of the Shua-Tshwa branch, which seems to be corroborated by Güldemann's discussion (2004: 262) on pronoun systems. In order to examine this hypothesis, we plan to collaborate with IP1 which plans to document Shua. A more extensive and reliable comparison between the languages will only be possible by using more extensive data on Gǁana and Tshila provided by the present project.

(III) Examination of a new hypothesis on the history of Kalahari Khoe languages:

The Khoe data elaborated by this project will be analyzed with a view on different historical scenarios about Kalahari Khoe languages. As opposed to a hitherto accepted scenario (e.g. Voßen 1997) in which all Khoe languages are related in a straightforward way, Güldemann (forthcoming) provides a completely new view on the origins of Kalahari Khoe groups, among other things involving the hypothesis that the groups at issue here shifted from non-Khoe towards Kalahari Khoe. This project will evaluate the different historical scenarios by means of more extensive and accurate data on all the languages involved.

(IV) Cross-Khoisan comparison of kinship terms:

A comparative research of kinship terms will be conducted for all the Naro and Gǀui-Gǁana groups in terms of both forms and structures. The attested kinship systems in these groups will then be compared with other neighboring Taa and Ju-ǂHoan languages. Hitomi Ono has worked on the kinship system of Gǀui from a linguistic view point and found several typologically uncommon features (e.g., all terms can syntactically function as transitive verbs with the meaning "to have X as his/her father, mother, etc."); the distribution of these features is one of the important points to be considered in reconstructing the history of language contact in the relevant area. Akira Takada has investigated kinship terms of Khoe and Ju-ǂHoan groups from a cultural-anthropological point of view, with emphasis on comparison of the social structure. By integrating data gathered from these two different perspectives, this project will analyze the variation of the kinship terms and kinship systems attested in the Naro and Gǀui-Gǁana groups and neighbouring non-Khoe languages, such as !Xoon, Juǀ’hoan, and ǂHoan. The exploration of this issue is of direct relevance to IP5, and it will make an empirical contribution with new linguistic and anthropological data, as well as a historical contribution.


Güldemann, Tom. 2004. Reconstruction through ‘de-construction’: the marking of person, gender, and number in the Khoe family and Kwadi. Diachronica 21,2: 251-306.

Güldemann, Tom. forthcoming. Changing profile when encroaching on hunter-gatherer territory: towards a history of the Khoe-Kwadi family in southern Africa. In Güldemann, Tom, Patrick McConvell and Richard Rhodes (eds.), Hunter-gatherers and linguistic history: a global perspective. submitted to Cambridge University Press.

Güldemann, Tom. forthcoming. A linguist’s view: Khoe-Kwadi speakers as the earliest food-producers of southern Africa. Southern African Humanities.

Honken, Henry. forthcoming. Eastern _Hoã as an NK language. In Keuthmann, Klaus, Gabriele Sommer and Rainer Voßen (eds.), Essays in honour of Anthony Traill. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.

Nakagawa, Hirosi. 2006a. “ǀGui dialects and ǀGui-speaking communities before the relocation from the CKGR”, PULA: Botswana Journal of African Studies, 20, 1: 48-61.

Nakagawa, Hirosi 2006b. Aspects of phonetic and phonological structure of the Gǀui language. PhD thesis: University of the Witwatersrand.

Traill, Anthony and Hirosi Nakagawa. 2000. A historical !Xóõ-ǀGui contact zone: linguistic and other relations. In Batibo, Herman M. and Joe Tsonope (eds.), The state of Khoesan languages in Botswana. Gaborone: Basarwa Languages Project, 1-17.

Voßen, Rainer. 1997. Die Khoe-Sprachen: Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der Sprachgeschichte Afrikas. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung 12. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.


Principal investigator    Location
Hirosi Nakagawa    Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Email:       Japan
Akira Takada    Hitomi Ono
Email:       Email: