The N!aq language, pronounced /ŋ!àˤà/, is spoken around several rural settlements in eastern Botswana. There is some mutual intelligibility between N!aq and ǂHȍã, which together form the ǂ'amkoe branch of the Kx'a languages (Collins and Chebanne, 2016).

N!aq has a robust phonetic inventory, including 50 contrastive clicks across 5 different points of articulation, three level tones, and two contour tones (Collins and Chebanne, 2016). Each of the 5 plain clicks has as many 9 accompaniments, including the notable bilabial click; for example: 

  • Bilabial Click
    ʘ    (voiceless)
    gʘ  (voiced)
    ʘh  (aspirated)
    ʘʔ  (glottal)
    ʘq  (unaspirated uvular) 
    ʘqh (aspirated uvular)
    ʘq'  (ejective uvular)
    ŋʘ   (nasal)
    ʔŋʘ (preglottalized nasal)
    ŋ̊ʘh (voiceless nasal/delayed aspiration)

In Setswana, the speakers of N!aq are called Basarwa. A number of exonyms have emerged to refer to speakers of the “click languages.” Basarwa is a Setswana word used within Botswana to refer to speakers of these languages very broadly, but the speakers of N!aq do not refer to themselves as Basarwa.  Basasi is a Setswana endonym used to by speakers of N!aq to refer to themselves. Bushmen is considered derogatory. San (or Saan) is in common use to describe the hunter-gatherer speakers of the click languages throughout southern Africa. Note that terms such as San, Basarwa, and Bushmen generalize over many distinct groups who view themselves as distinct (like "Native American").

The social history of the San (including the Basasi) has been changing over time, especially due to contacts with colonizers and neighboring cattle-herding ethnic groups. The San are now adopting the lifestyle of their neighbors. Unfortunately this cultural shift is accompanied by language loss. The the social history and current circumstances of the San bear many likenesses to those of other indigenous peoples around the world. 

Due to these factors, N!aq is considered moribund. Ethnologue (2018) classifies its status as 8b, nearly extinct. Only 20-50 elderly speakers remain and no community-internal efforts are underway to revitalize the language.

Documentation

As an RA in 2016, I assisted with data management and coded a PHP parsing script to convert an MS Word dictionary into a FLEx project automatically. This was used to generate an English-Sasi reversal index for the Sasi-Dictionary. I also helped with copy editing his Sasi dictionary and designed the web and print versions of the N!aq (Sasi) Spelling Primer.

Phrases

  • ’nǂoam kwa!
    Hello!
  • u i tu a!
    You're awake! (said as a morning greeting)
  • ma i tu a!
    I'm awake! (said in response to the morning greeting)
  • ǁa ši u i toan a?
    How's your day going? (said as an afternoon greeting)
  • |om ma i toan a!
    My day is going well! (said as a response to the afternoon greeting)
  • |om u a n|obo.
    You're speaking well.

Resources

Literature