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zompist bboard • View topic - Diachronics of clicks?

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 Post subject: Diachronics of clicks?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 4:09 pm 
Avisaru
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Does anyone know of a resource--or theory--on the diachronics of clicks? Sorry if someone's already asked this.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:50 pm 
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I emailed a professor of Zulu once, and he wrote back saying very gently that nobody really knows. Even though you'd think it would be obvious since there are words in Zulu and Xhosa that have clicks and aren't loans from Khoisan languages, which presumably have cognates without clicks in other Bantu languages. It hadnt occurred to me though, that he might not have been the best person to ask. Those who teach languages dont always know about the histories of them. I dont have the email anymore because it was on another computer, sorry. But I'd say that a good way to start would be to try to find how the clicks in Zulu and Xhosa came about, since that question is at least possibly solveable, whereas the question of how clicks came about in Khoisan languages is probably never going to be answered unless someone invents a time machine that can take us back 20000 years.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:07 pm 
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I have read that many words in Xhosa and Zulu acquired clicks out of avoidance speech practices. Speakers got around bans on particular words by distorting them in various ways, often by replacing consonants with clicks. These altered words would often replace the unmodified word altogether, leading the language to develop a growing stock of native words with clicks in them. This process mainly occurred because the Bantu speakers in southern Africa already had many centuries of contact with Khoisan languages and familiarity with click consonants for that reason. It remains far less clear how the Khoisan languages would have originally developed them. I recall seeing it suggested somewhere that similar processes of avoidance speech may have occurred among Khoisan speakers at some point.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:21 pm 
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I have no idea where I heard this, but I heard that the clicks developed to sound more like animal vocalizations, so as not to startle the animals they were hunting.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:07 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:54 am 
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Ladefoged wrote in his course in phonetics that the Western African labial-velar coarticulates (e.g. in Yoruba) tended to have a bit of the lingual (velaric) airstream mechanism. "During the labial and velar closures, the back of the tongue sometimes moves slightly farther back, creating a slight suction effect as in a click. Thus the stops [k͡p ɡ͡b] and the nasal [ŋ͡m] often have a weak velaric ingressive mechanism, so they might be classified as voiceless or voiced or nasal bilabial clicks." You could therefore conjecture a diachronic pathway k͡p > ʘk͡, ɡ͡b > ʘ͡ɡ, ŋ͡m > ʘ͡ŋ and perhaps even k͡t > ǀ͡k or ǃ͡k and so on.

Another question is what the clicks could decay into. I think I've read somewhere they may become just plain dorsals.

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Last edited by Niedokonany on Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:56 am 
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I've also encountered, in the literature, the contention that it is far more of a mystery why most language groups lack clicks than why the groups that do have them do. The reasoning for this view is not difficult: first, the basic clicks are dead easy to produce. So much so that they are in extremely widespread use in paralinguistic utterances... so why not in words too? And second, because they have such high auditory salience. Their sharp and distinctive sounds remain easy to correctly discern when it's otherwise hard to hear or understand someone, (Even in English, if someone curses under their breath across the room from you, you may or may not catch what they said or even that they said it; but if they tsk-tsked - even quietly - you are highly likely to catch it.) These two observations in turn may be sufficient to explain a third, which is to do with diachronics: clicks have never been observed to delete or lenite into anything else as part of a regular sound change, nor are there any cases with good cause to suspect it.

Think about that for a moment, and the real question quickly becomes: why don't we all speak click languages?

I've also seen it suggested that the fact we don't can be taken as evidence that the incorporation of clicks into lexical entries as consonants might be a relatively recent innovation, perhaps as recently as two to four millennia, and thus possibly amenable to the comparative method.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:10 am 
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Wikipedia gives at least one example of a potential pathway (from comparison between Khoisan languages): "For example, the Sandawe word for 'horn', /tɬana/, with a lateral affricate, may be a cognate with the root /ᵑǁaː/ found throughout the Khoe family, which has a lateral click. This and other words suggests that at least some Khoe clicks may have formed from consonant clusters when the first vowel of a word was lost; in this instance [tɬana] → [tɬna] → [ǁŋa] / [ᵑǁa]."

(that said they can't necessarily demonstrate that these two are cognate)

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:36 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:23 pm 
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Great, thanks for the replies. Lots of food for thought.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:12 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:35 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:46 pm 
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Do you think that "weak" clicks, like the ones found in German, could give rise to Khoisan-esque "strong" clicks?


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