The Phonological System of TumɁi

  • Kelly Kilian Department of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Rhodes University
Keywords: Khoisan, endangered languages, phonetics, phonology, glottalization, clicks


As part of a linguistic research team I recorded a Khoisan language currently spoken by three people in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Since the variety of language spoken in this location is close to varieties of both the Khoekhoe and Tuu language families, the question of genetic affiliation and classification within the Khoisan language cluster becomes significant. Although reported to have significant lexical similarities due to intensive language contact (Güldemann 2006), extensive research provides evidence of numerous linguistic differences which distinguish between the varieties within the Khoisan families mentioned above (Beach 1938, Bleek 1930, Ladefoged & Traill 1994, Miller, Brugman, Sands, Namaseb, Exter & Collins 2007). Overall, this project attempts to answer the question: How unique is this undocumented language TumɁi in comparison to varieties of geographically neighbouring Khoisan language clusters? This comparative analysis is comprised of a detailed description of the vowel and consonant systems, as well as evidence of phonetic and phonological contrasts. The clear focus on the analysis of sound contrasts is a consequence of limited data due to speaker competence. As a result of intense incomplete acquisition and linguistic attrition, the consultants produce utterances using Khoisan content words within an Afrikaans framework (Killian 2009). Specific research questions include: What is the sound inventory of this language? Are there phonation or glottalization contrasts in vowels? Are there laryngeal contrasts in consonants? What kinds of clicks make up the inventory? This project is a direct effort toward the revitalization and documentation of indigenous languages. Determining the genetic affiliations of this language which is positioned relatively equidistant to the surrounding languages, would also contribute to gaps within the linguistic isoglosses in South Africa.