Click consonant

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Manners of articulation
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Clicks are stops produced with two articulatory closures in the oral cavity. The pocket of air enclosed between the two closures is rarefied by a "sucking" action of the tongue. The release of the more forward closure produces what in many cases are the loudest consonants in the language, although in some languages such as Hadza, clicks are more subtle and may even be mistaken for ejective stops. Clicks appear more stop-like or more affricate-like depending on their place of articulation: clicks involving an apical alveolar or laminal postalveolar closure are acoustically sharp like plain stops, while bilabial, dental and lateral clicks have an acoustically noisier sound, and sound more like affricates.

Clicks occur in all the Khoisan languages of southern Africa, and in several of the neighbouring Bantu languages, such as Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, etc.) and Sesotho, which borrowed them from Khoisan languages. Clicks also occur in Sandawe and Hadza, two languages of Tanzania traditionally classified as Khoisan, as well as in Dahalo, an endangered South Cushitic language of Kenya.

The only non-African language known to employ clicks as regular speech sounds is Damin, a secret ritual code used by speakers of Lardil in Australia. One of the clicks in Damin is actually an egressive click, formed as above, but using the tongue to compress the air in the mouth for an outward (egressive) movement of air. English and many other languages may use clicks in interjections, such as "tsk-tsk" or "gee-up".

As noted above, clicks necessarily involve two closures: an anterior one which is represented by the special click symbol in the IPA, and a posterior one which is usually velar but can also be uvular. This posterior articulation may be oral or nasal, voiced or voiceless, etc. (It's quite easy to pronounce a nasal click once you realise that while maintaining the double oral closure you're free to breathe through the nose.) Since the posterior articulation is most commonly velar (and can only be velar in most languages), only the place of the anterior articulation (called the "release") is normally mentioned, while only the manner of the posterior articulation (called the "accompaniment") is specified. Thus a "nasal dental click" means a click with a dental anterior articulation/release and a velar nasal posterior articulation/accompaniment.

There are numerous combinations of elements making up a click accompaniment, some of them quite daunting. These include tenuis, voiced, aspirate, nasal, voiceless nasal, glottalized, voiceless nasal glottalized, affricate, ejective affricate, prevoiced, prenasalized, and others as well. This means that pentagraphs like gk!x' are possible in a practical orthography. However, many of these combinations are consonant clusters rather than separate phonemes. The size of Khoisan click inventories (including clusters) ranges from as few as four for the Dahalo language of Kenya to well over a hundred in the Northern and Southern Khoisan languages. In the latter, about 70% of words begin with a click. The Southern African Khoisan languages only permit root-initial clicks. Hadza, Sandawe, and several of the Bantu languages also allow clicks within roots, but in no language does a click close a syllable or end a word.

The five click releases with dedicated symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) are the bilabial release, ; the laminal dental and postalveolar releases, and ; and the apical alveolar and lateral releases, and . When a full click consonant is transcribed (that is, an accompaniment + release), the accompaniment is written first: .

While the SAMPA encoding for IPA into ASCII doesn't have symbols for transcribing clicks, the proposed X-SAMPA standard does: O\, |\, |\|\, =\, and !. Some instead suggest ||\, #\ or "\ for the alveolar lateral click. The Kirshenbaum system uses a different method: clicks are denoted by digraphs, with the click symbol "!" added to the stop homorganic to the release, but with the manner of the accompaniment. For example, /t!/ is a tenuis dental click, and /m!/ is a nasal bilabial click. However, the International Phonetic Association recommends using the IPA symbols in Unicode, or using the numbers which they have assigned to each symbol.

See also

fr:Clic ko:흡착음 ja:吸着音 zh:搭嘴音


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