Gǀui dialect

  (Redirected from Gǀwi language)

Gǀui or Gǀwi (pronounced /ˈɡw/ in English, and also spelled ǀGwi, Dcui, Gcwi, or Cgui) is a Khoe dialect of Botswana with 2,500 speakers (2004 Cook). It is part of the Gǁana dialect cluster, and is closely related to Naro. It has a number of loan words from ǂʼAmkoe. Gǀui, ǂʼAmkoe, and Taa form the core of the Kalahari Basin sprachbund, and share a number of characteristic features, including extremely large consonant inventories.

Native toBotswana
Ethnicity1,470 Gǀui (2013)[1]
Native speakers

1,500 all Gǁana dialects (2011)[2]
  • Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe)
Language codes
ISO 639-3gwj
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Gǀui has 89 consonants (with 52 clicks) or 52 consonants (and 20 clicks), depending on analysis. There are ten vowels, and two to six tones, again depending on analysis.


Gǀui has 24 simple click consonants, plus complex clicks variously analyzed as consonant clusters or airstream contours. As with many of the Tshu–Khwe languages, clicks have lost some of their importance under the influence of neighboring Bantu languages. Many words which previously began with clicks (as shown by cognates in related languages) have lost them over the past few centuries in Gǀui. Nonetheless, Gǀui has the largest known inventory of clicks of any Khoe language.

Gǀui has been described with a contrast between velar and uvular clicks. However, all Gǀui clicks are uvular (or pharyngeal); the 'uvular' part of the latter is part of an airstream contour, a transition from a click to a non-click release: effectively, the click transitions into a non-click consonant. (See Nǁng language for a similar situation in another language.) Nakagawa proposes that the contour and glottalized clicks are not single sounds, but sequences of a click and a uvular or glottal consonant, though Miller (2011) notes that such an analysis creates problems when extended to other languages with clicks.

Altogether there are thirteen such series, or "accompaniments", and all 52 possible combinations are found. Except for the lack of bilabial clicks, the inventory is nearly identical to that of some speakers of ǂʼAmkoe, which is in intense contact with Gǀui and may have borrowed some of its clicks from Gǀui, and lost others not found in Gǀui.

Miller (2011), in a comparative study with other languages, interprets Nakagawa's description as follows. (Nakagawa's ⟨kǃʔ⟩ and ⟨ǃqxʼ⟩ are analyzed as [ᵑǃˀ] and [ǃ͡kxʼ], respectively.)[4]

Simple clicks
affricated clicks 'sharp' clicks
voiced ᶢǀ ᶢǁ ᶢǃ ᶢǂ
Tenuis ᵏǀ ᵏǁ ᵏǃ ᵏǂ
Aspirated ᵏǀʰ ᵏǁʰ ᵏǃʰ ᵏǂʰ
Glottalized oral ᵏǀʼ ᵏǁʼ ᵏǃʼ ᵏǂʼ
Nasal ᵑǀ ᵑǁ ᵑǃ ᵑǂ
voiceless aspirated nasal ᵑ̊ǀʰ ᵑ̊ǁʰ ᵑ̊ǃʰ ᵑ̊ǂʰ
Glottalized nasal ᵑǀˀ ᵑǁˀ ᵑǃˀ ᵑǂˀ
(Prenasalized) voiced ᶢǀ͡ɢ ᶢǁ͡ɢ ᶢǃ͡ɢ ᶢǂ͡ɢ
Tenuis ǀ͡q ǁ͡q ǃ͡q ǂ͡q
Aspirated ǀ͡qʰ ǁ͡qʰ ǃ͡qʰ ǂ͡qʰ
Voiceless fricative ǀ͡χ ǁ͡χ ǃ͡χ ǂ͡χ
Ejective ǀ͡qʼ ǁ͡qʼ ǃ͡qʼ ǂ͡qʼ
Velar ejective affricate ǀ͡qχʼ ǁ͡qχʼ ǃ͡qχʼ ǂ͡qχʼ

The voiced contour ('uvular') clicks tend to be prenasalized, [ɴǃɢ]. As in the majority of languages with clicks, the glottalized nasal series /ᵑǃˀ/ are pronounced with a glottal release [ǃˀ] in initial position, and prenasalized [ᵑˀǃ] after a vowel. The contrast between glottalized oral and glottalized nasal clicks is unusual, but has also been reported from ǂʼAmkoe and Yeyi since Nakagawa announced its discovery in Gǀui. The Khute dialect of Gǀui also has preglottalized nasal clicks allophonically. They developed from glottalized nasal clicks before pharyngealized vowels, perhaps under ǂʼAmkoe influence:

Preglottalized nasal clicks in Khute dialect[5]
Khute Gǀui other Gǀui English
[ˀᵑǂúˤrī] [ᵑǂˀúˤrī] "adam's apple" (pharyngealized vowel)
[ᵑǂˀúbī] [ᵑǂˀúbī] "egg" (modal vowel)

Other consonantsEdit

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain affric.
Nasal m (n) (ŋ)
Plosive voiceless p t ts c k q ʔ
voiced b d dz ɟ g ɢ
aspirated tsʰ
ejective () tsʼ qχʼ [kʟ̥ʼ]
plain tsχ
ejective tqχʼ tsqχʼ
Fricative s χ h
Approximant w (ɾ~l) j

Most words are of the form CV, CVV, CVCV, CVN, where C stands for a consonant, V for a vowel, and N for a nasal consonant (m, n). In CVCV words, only a limited set of consonants (b m ɾ n j w) may occur in medial position (the second syllable). Of these, two (n, ɾ) may not occur at the beginning of a word, and due to restrictions with nasal vowels may be argued to be allophonic. The n, ɾ is pronounced [l] after a lateral click or a pharyngeal vowel (but not after a velar ejective /kʟ̥ʼ/). /ŋ/ only occurs in mimesis. /tʼ/ occurs in a single word, t'aa 'to carve', which is not widely known.

The palatals, which are unique among Khoisan languages to Gǁana-Gǀui, derive historically from the alveolars before non-pharyngealized vowels. In Gǁana this shift has only partly occurred.

/tqχʼ/ and /tsqχʼ/ have also been analyzed as /tχʼ/ and /tsχʼ/, the ejective homologues of /tχ/ and /tsχ/. However, their pronunciation is [tqχʼ] and [tsqχʼ].


Gǀui has five modal vowels, a e i o u, three nasal vowels, ã ẽ õ, and two pharyngeal vowels, aˤ oˤ. There are diphthongs o͜a and o͜aˤ, but they are allophones of o. Gǀui also has breathy-voice vowels, but they are described as part of the tone system.

Only the five modal vowels a e i o u occur in monomoraic (CV or V) roots, which except for the noun χò 'thing, place, case' are all grammatical morphemes. These are reduced to three nasal vowels ã ẽ õ after nasal consonants, including the glottalized nasal clicks.

The modal vowels and the pharyngeal vowels, aˤ oˤ/o͜aˤ, occur as the first vowel (V1) of bimoraic roots, CVCV, CVV, and CVN, though the modal vowels are reduced to a e i o͜a before a nasal coda, CVN. This o͜a corresponds to o in Gǁana. Pharyngeal and o͜aˤ are also in complementary distribution: in CVV words and o͜aˤ in CVCV and CVN words; some speakers use o͜aˤ in CVV roots too, so that their pharyngeal vowels are reduced to aˤ o͜aˤ.

The modal and nasal vowels (but not the pharyngeals) occur as the second vowel (V2) of bimoraic roots, CVCV or CVV, though only modal vowels may follow the medial consonants b ɾ, and only nasal vowels follow the medial consonants m n. Either oral or nasal vowels may follow j w or null (CVV roots). That is, medial m n may be seen as allophones of b ɾ.

The initial consonant (C1) may be any but n ɾ. The medial consonant (C2) may be b ɾ m n j w. N may be m n.

There are other vowel restrictions. V1 is always i in CVCV words when C1 is non-click palatal, for example. (This is because those sounds arose historically from alveolars followed by i, which are still found in Naro.) Uvular(ized) consonants cause vowel lowering.


Gǀui may be analyzed as having two abstract phonemic tones, plus breathy voice, which is covered here rather than under vowels.

Monosyllabic morphemes carry one of two tones, high and low. Bimoraic roots carry one of six tones: high-level, high-mid (or "high falling"), mid-low (or "mid"), low-mid dipping/rising, high falling (or "falling"), and low falling (or "low"). Low falling and low-mid are accompanied by a breathy voice phonation, the other four with a clear phonation. The high and low falling tones form a natural class, triggering for example a high tone on the suffix -si, whereas the other four root tones trigger a low tone on -si.

That is, there are two tones or CV and V roots; two tones on bimoraic roots with breathy vowels, one of them falling; and four tones on bimoraic roots with other vowels, one of them falling. Thus there are four phonemic tones on CVCV, CVV, and CVN roots, the number expected if there are two possible tones on each mora, with moraic N carrying tone, though their contours are not simple juxtapositions of high/low + high/low.


  • Khute


  1. ^ Gǀui dialect at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Brenzinger, Matthias (2011) "The twelve modern Khoisan languages." In Witzlack-Makarevich & Ernszt (eds.), Khoisan languages and linguistics: proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium, Riezlern / Kleinwalsertal (Research in Khoisan Studies 29). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "/Gwi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Amanda Miller, 2011. "The Representation of Clicks". In Oostendorp et al. eds., The Blackwell Companion to Phonology.
  5. ^ Gerlach 2015: 362, from Nakagawa 2006: 172
  • Nakagawa, Hirosi. 1995. "A Preliminary Report on the Click Accompaniments in ǀGui". Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 25.2, 49–63.
  • Nakagawa, Hirosi. 1996. "An Outline of ǀGui Phonology". African Study Monographs, Suppl. 22, 101–124.
  • Nakagawa, Hirosi. 2006. Aspects of the phonetic and phonological structure of the Gǀui language. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Witwatersrand.

External linksEdit