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Terms & Definitions

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Terms & Definitions

Ethnic and Language Terms

San: The word ‘San’ likely comes from the Khoekhoegowab term Saan, meaning ‘people who gather wild food’. It also has the implication of people without any cattle. This is the term usually applied to the indigenous peoples of southern Africa who live or used to live from hunting and gathering and are descendants of the aboriginal population of the subcontinent. The European settlers called these people: Bosjesman, Soaqua, Bushmen, and other names. The Black Bantu-speaking peoples referred to them as Basarwa, Abathwa, Baroa, etc depending on the language of the Black people. The San peoples speak many different languages from three major language families (see Ju, Khoe, !Ui-Taa).

Khoe: The word Khoe means ‘a person’ in the Khoekhoegowab language. It is also used as the name of the whole Central Khoe-San language family. Member languages include: Khoekhoegowab, Khwedam, ||Anikhwedam, Naro, |Gui, ||Gana and others. Many Khoekhoegowab speakers come from a pastoralist sheep and cattle herding economic tradition. Other Khoekhoe speakers were or continue to be hunter-gatherers, including the Hai||om and Damara peoples. European settlers at the Cape called the Khoekhoe speakers of that area by various names including: Hottentots, Strandlopers, Ubiqua and other names. Most of these Khoe speakers were herders, but others were foragers or destitute. Frequently the Europeans had difficulty distinguishing the various languages and cultures of the indigenous peoples. Khoi and Khoe are the same word, pronounced the same way. Khoi is the English spelling; Khoe is the correct Khoekhoegowab spelling. Khoe is the biggest language family of the Khoe-San stock, spoken mostly in Botswana and Namibia.

Khoesan or Khoisan: In 1928, German explorer and anthropologist Leonhard Schulze coined the term ‘Khoisan’ to refer to both the Khoe herders and the San hunter-gatherers. An influential South African anthropologist, Isaac Schapera, used this term in 1930. Schapera was under the misapprehension that the Khoe and San peoples spoke languages from one family. He applied the term to both the physical characteristics and the languages of the indigenous peoples. Today, San people prefer to be identified by as San or by their ethnic community names. In South Africa, some people who are reclaiming their ancestry refer to themselves as Khoesan. WIMSA recommends that where researchers wish to refer to the common gene type of the indigenous peoples or to the language stock, they should use the spelling Khoe-San.

Ju: Ju is the name for the Northern Khoe-San language family. This family includes languages such as !Kung, Ju|’hoansi, !Xun and others. Ju means ‘a person’ in Ju|’hoansi. This is the second largest language family in the Khoe-San language stock. Most Ju language speakers live in Namibia and Angola.

!Ui-Taa: !Ui-Taa refers to the Southern Khoe-San language family. This family originated in South Africa and is almost extinct today. There are two distinct branches. The !Ui branch was spoken across South Africa and included: |Xam, N|u (including ‡Khomani and ||Ng), ||Xegwi, ‡Unkue, ||Kxau, ||Ku||e and Seroa-!Khuai. !Ui means ‘a person’ and is sometimes written !Kwi. The only known representative of the Taa branch of the family is !Xóõ, a language still spoken in southern Botswana. There were other languages that formed a bridge between the Taa and !Ui subfamilies, these included |’Auo and K’u|haasi, and one generically known as ‘Masarwa’. The extinct |Xam language is used on the South African coat of arms.

Bantu: Bantu is a term coined by linguist Wilhelm Bleek in the 19th century. It means ‘people’. The term is applied to several hundred languages that are closely related and form a major branch of the Niger-Congo language family that spreads from West Africa down to the southern end of the continent. Major Bantu languages include Kikongo, Kiswahili, ChiShona, and isiZulu. The major branches in South Africa include the Nguni languages (isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, siSwati and siPhuthi). The other major branch includes Setswana, Sesotho and Sepedi / Sesotho sa Leboa. The term ‘Bantu’ was used by the apartheid regime and developed negative racialist connotations.

A note on symbols

Most San languages rely on extra-alphabetic symbols to express the clicks that are prevalent and distinctive. This is necessary as the phonetic inventory of San languages is so high that all other roman alphabetic symbols are already designated for other use. N|u has over 145 distinct phonemes, which makes it almost three times the size of Standard English. Most of the symbols used here are taken from the International Phonetic Association Alphabet, with the exception of the bilabial click that has a symbol not readily available on ASCII. Retracting the tongue from different parts of the mouth produces each click. These sounds may be accompanied by aspiration, a glottal stop, a fricative or an affricate. ASCII also lacks a symbol for a nasalised /u/ therefore we have used the Khoekhoegowab standard û to represent a nasal /u/ in N|u words. Spelling of N|u words is based on Namaseb’s orthographic recommendations of 2000.

| = dental click
|| = lateral click
! = alveolar-palatal click
‡ = palatal click
8 = bilabial click (IPA = a circle with a dot in the middle)

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