If you’ve ever wondered how click consonants sound in practice, the wonderful and recently deceased Miriam Makeba provides a demonstration in her song “Qongqothwane,” usually known in English as “The Click Song”: YouTube (Dutch TV, September 1979). Thanks, Yoram!


  1. That video is probably the one that is the most interesting to linguists; for anyone who wants to see more of her, earlier this week I tracked down a bunch of links and put them in one post (in my name URL). There’s a link to a different version of the Click Song, and if you follow the video from Bern’s Salonger that’s imbedded, the same person has posted a version of the Click Song from that concert, but a capella and I think not as good.
    Reminds me of the film “The gods must be crazy”, I think with the same language.

  2. My god, how does she make those noises?

  3. michael farris says

    Here’s a sample from her wonderful, wonderful album Sangoma (buy it! buy it! buy it now! you will not regret it, I promise)
    baxabene oxamu
    bexabene ngengxongxo
    bexakwe yinxu baxaka
    qyike legqitha igqele laqinge qhude ni
    beliqhatha baba geqotho leqhude

  4. michael farris says
  5. A.J.P. Crown says

    Good work, thanks. I liked the 1966 click song.

  6. Speaking of Youtube (sorry, I don’t have a better segue).
    This might be of interest to out host, given his fondness of maledicta.

  7. I think with the same language.
    Xhosa is a Niger-Congo language, from the southernmost part of South Africa.
    I believe the language of The Gods Must be Crazy is Ju|’hoan, which is Khoisan, from Namibia and Botswana. (N!xau’s native language is further reported as Ungwatsi in the entertainment press, a name that doesn’t appear in Ethnologue, but is probably recognizable to some expert here.)

  8. Sili: Thanks very much indeed, that’s the best thing I’ve seen in a while!

  9. Crown, A.J.P. says

    I don’t think the Swedish one, fan, works nearly as well, because it’s too high to get the intonation right. In norsk it’s all in the expressiveness of the pitch of the voice.

  10. Geoff Pullum just wrote a nice little related rant on the Log:

  11. Trond Engen says

    Why are the audience impressed by a song in Xhosa? I’m stunned by the fact that there are songs in Dutch.
    I used to think of the infixed expletive, as in “Peer-faens-Gynt”, as recent and probably imported. Apparently it can now be traced back to Edvard Grieg.

  12. Oh, and of course he misrepresents the Danish (I’ll leave the discussion Finnish to the incomparable prof Liberman).
    It’s not /fæn.den/ – I’ve never ever heard the d pronounced. /fæn/ sorta gets closer but the n is syllabelised and the vowel has stød.

  13. A.J.P. Crown says

    I wondered about that ‘d’ in the Danish.
    When she was about eight my daughter conned me into believing that the absolute worst swearwords in Norwegian were sugerrør!, which means drinking-straw, and rosebokser!, which means ‘rose-trousers’ (a word she made up). My wife didn’t let on, because she didn’t like me using real Norwegian swear words like faen. It was also fine with me, when I found out, because they all sound equally innocuous to a foreigner. You look pretty silly yelling rose-trousers when your car breaks down, though.

  14. Your Majesty: You look pretty silly yelling rose-trousers when your car breaks down, though.
    Maybe you could swap to… er… PP (pink panties)?

  15. Oh, and of course he misrepresents the Danish
    Well, duh—he’s Norwegian! The Norwegians still haven’t quite gotten over being under the Danish bootheel for all those years.

  16. Siganus Sutor says

    (Do I need to say that “pink panties” is not the plural of “pink panther”?)
    Sili, in the link you provided one can read this:
    Of the four Finnish cuss words cited, three are religious: saatana = “satan”, perkele = “traditional Finnish thunder god” (currently also a name for the devil), jumalauta = “God help”.
    This made me think that the writer Arto Paasilinna might be some kind of expert on the subject, not least because he wrote a hilarious book translated in French as Le Fils du dieu de l’Orage* (Ukkosenjumalan poika), the story of an auld Finnish god, Ukko Ylijumala, god of thunder, who sends his son to earth to counterbalance the (bad) influence of that Jesus-made-man.
    * Something like “The son of the Thunder-god” (I don’t know if it’s been translated into English).

  17. A.J.P. Crown says

    The Norwegians still haven’t quite gotten over being under the Danish bootheel for all those years.
    The Norwegians love the Danes. They are ever so slightly less fond of the Swedes, and love to hear stories about the Swedish King, who has the reputation in Scandinavia of being very stupid. Once when he had been presented with a bouquet of flowers he is supposed to have handed them to a courtier saying, ‘Somebody take care of these vegetables for me’. I’m not convinced he’s stupid at all; part of the problem is explained by his being dyslexic, which wasn’t admitted for years.
    The thing in Mark Liberman’s post about how Finnish bosses are like gruff old thunder gods is true, in my experience. I met some in Finland when I was designing bits of cruise ships. But it’s probably the only place in the world where the offices have a sauna adjacent to the conference room.
    For God’s sake don’t mention pink panties.

  18. John Emerson says

    Now I know where to go with my complaints about badly-designed cruise ships, at least. It’s take me a few days to gather the materials required for a proper presentation, however.

  19. A.J.P. "Viking" Crown says

    Cruise ships are badly designed (except for the bits I did, obviously). The cabins are hideous, the public areas can be quite imaginative but they’re not as good as a good new hotel and the crew quarters are for very, very tiny people. I only did it for the money (not that much, I was only an employee).

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