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|IPA chart non-pulmonic consonants|
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Clicks are speech sounds that occur as consonants in many languages of Southern Africa and in three languages of East Africa. Examples familiar to English-speakers are the tsk! tsk! (American spelling) or tut-tut (British spelling) used to express disapproval or pity, the tchick! used to spur on a horse, and the clip-clop! sound children make with their tongue to imitate a horse trotting.
Technically, clicks are obstruents articulated with two closures (points of contact) in the mouth, one forward and one at the back. The enclosed pocket of air is rarefied by a sucking action of the tongue (in technical terminology, clicks have a lingual ingressive airstream mechanism). The forward closure is then released, producing what may be the loudest consonants in the language, but in some languages such as Hadza and Sandawe, clicks can be more subtle and may even be mistaken for ejectives.
Click consonants occur at five principal places of articulation. IPA represents a click by placing the assigned symbol for the place of click articulation adjacent to a symbol for a non-click sound at the rear place of articulation. The IPA symbols are used in writing most Khoisan languages, but Bantu languages such as Zulu typically use Latin ⟨c⟩, ⟨x⟩ and ⟨q⟩ for dental, lateral, and alveolar clicks respectively.
The above clicks sound like affricates, in that they involve a lot of friction. The other two families are more abrupt sounds that do not have this friction.
Clicks occur in all three Khoisan language families of southern Africa, where they may be the most numerous consonants. To a lesser extent they occur in three neighbouring groups of Bantu languages—which borrowed them, directly or indirectly, from Khoisan. In the southeast, in eastern South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique, they were adopted from a Tuu language or languages by the languages of the Nguni cluster (especially Zulu, Xhosa, and Phuthi, but also to a lesser extent Swazi and Ndebele), and spread from them in a reduced fashion to the Zulu-based pidgin Fanagalo, Sesotho, Tsonga, Ronga, the Mzimba dialect of Tumbuka, and more recently to Ndau and urban varieties of Pedi, where the spread of clicks continues. The second point of transfer was near the Caprivi Strip and the Okavango River where, apparently, the Yeyi language borrowed the clicks from a West Kalahari Khoe language; a separate development led to a smaller click inventory in the neighboring Mbukushu, Kwangali, Gciriku, Kuhane, and Fwe languages in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. These sounds occur not only in borrowed vocabulary, but have spread to native Bantu words as well, in the case of Nguni at least partially due to a type of word taboo called hlonipha. Some creolized varieties of Afrikaans, such as Oorlams, retain clicks in Khoekhoe words.
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