Bushman Languages

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bushman Languages


languages of the Bushmen, the native population of southern and eastern Africa. The major portion of the Bushmen tribes remained only in southwestern Africa, primarily in the Kalahari Desert. Bushman languages are spoken in the southeastern part of Angola, in Namibia, in Botswana, and in the Republic of South Africa (in the Boshof and Warrenton regions north of Kimberley and in the eastern part of Transvaal at the border of Swaziland near Lake Chrissie). The Hadzapi, a remnant of the former Bushman population in this part of the African continent, live in Tanzania along the western shores of Lake Eyasi. The names of many rivers and mountains in South Africa (inhabited now by the Bantu peoples) can be traced back to Bushman languages, which indicates earlier settlement by the Bushmen. There are approximately 15, 000 speakers of Bushman languages. Little research has been done on these languages (about 25 are known by name only). Apparently, the Bushman languages do not constitute a single language family, although for the present it is not possible to establish their genetic relationship. Three groups of Bushman languages are better known: (1) Kung, and the Auen dialect; (2) Qkoung, or Magong, and the two dialects Nama (or Naman) and Auni; and (3) Zkhomani, or Nusan, and the related Batwa language. The Hatsa language (Tanzania) is somewhat set apart.

Click sounds, which are designated by special symbols, are the distinctive features of Bushman languages. They include dentals, alveolo-palatals, two laterals, and a bilabial; in addition, they may be aspirated, nasalized, and voiced. Lack of data on the Bushman languages does not permit a sufficiently precise description of their grammatical structure. Judging from materials in the Qkoung language, most stems are monosyllabic. Verb and noun stems are not differentiated. Polysemy is common. Grammatical gender is absent. Noun plurals are formed either from different stems (for example, in the Qkoung language “man,” “father” is la’a, plural η//xaa; “eye” is η!un, plural η!wani), or by adding the deictic marker -te, -ke. Numerals consist of only “one” and “two,” and greater quantities are indicated by use of the word “many.” The verb is not marked for tense, aspect, or mood and is distinguished from the noun by the introduction of the formant ba, which indicates action. Reduplication of the verb stem yields participial or adverbial forms. The word order in simple sentences is subject-predicate-object.


Ol’derogge, D. A. “Iazyki Afriki.” In Narody Afriki. Moscow, 1954.
Bleek, D. F. “The Distribution of the Bushmen Languages in South Africa.” In Festschrift Meinhof. Hamburg, 1927.
Bulck, G. van. “Langues Khoin.” In Les Langues du monde. Paris, 1952.
Tucker, A. N., and M. A. Bryan. The Non-Bantu Languages of North-Eastern Africa. London, 1956.
Westphal, E. O. J. “On Classifying Bushman and Hottentot Languages.” African Language Studies, 1962, vol. 3, pp. 30-48.
Westphal, E. O. J. “The Linguistic Prehistory of Southern Africa: Bush, Kwadi, Hottentot and Bantu Linguistic Relationships.” Africa, 1963, vol. 33, pp. 237-265.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Cope, Markowitz and Marais indiscriminately included materials from different Bushman languages as though they all belonged to a homogeneous tradition.
In the very same year, Wilhelm Bleek's aunt wrote to Haeckel (who happened to be Bleek's cousin), informing him of Bleek's investigation of the origins of Bushman languages in Cape Town and "asking for information on the sounds made by apes", and more specifically "whether apes make click-sounds with their tongues and lips" (Bank 2006:39).