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Alveolar clicks

Not to be confused with the retroflex clicks or palatal clicks. Unicode uses the obsolete descriptions of "retroflex click" for the alveolar-click character ǃ and "alveolar click" for the palatal-click character ǂ.
Alveolar click
IPA number 178, 202
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Kirshenbaum c![1]
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Voiced alveolar click
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Kirshenbaum d.!
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Alveolar nasal click
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Kirshenbaum n.!
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The alveolar or postalveolar clicks are a family of click consonants found only in Africa and in the Damin ritual jargon of Australia. The tongue is more or less concave (depending on the language), and is pulled down rather than back as in the palatal clicks, making a hollower sound than those consonants.

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the place of articulation of these sounds is ǃ. The symbol is not an exclamation mark in origin, but rather a pipe with a subscript dot,  ǀ̣ , the dot being the old diacritic for retroflex consonants. Prior to 1989, ʗ (stretched c) was the IPA letter for the alveolar clicks, and this is still preferred by some phoneticians. The tail of ʗ may be the tail of retroflex consonants in the IPA, and thus analogous to the underdot of ǃ.[2] Either letter may be combined with a second letter to indicate the manner of articulation, though this is commonly omitted for tenuis clicks, and increasingly a diacritic is used instead.

Common alveolar clicks are:

IPA I IPA II Description
ǃ or ʗ Tenuis alveolar click
ǃʰ or ʗʰ aspirated alveolar click
ǃ̬ or ʗ̬ ᶢǃ or ᶢʗ Voiced alveolar click
ǃ̃ or ʗ̃ ᵑǃ or ᵑʗ Alveolar nasal click
ǃ̥̃ʰ or ʗ̃̊ʰ ᵑ̊ǃʰ or ᵑ̊ʗʰ Aspirated alveolar nasal click
ǃ̃ˀ or ʗ̃ˀ ᵑǃˀ or ᵑʗˀ Glottalized alveolar nasal click

The last can be heard in the sound sample at right; non-native speakers tend to glottalize clicks to avoid nasalizing them. The nasal click may also be heard at the right.

In the orthographies of individual languages, the letters and digraphs for alveolar clicks may be based on either the pipe symbol of the IPA, ǃ, or on the Latin q of Bantu convention. Nama and most Saan languages use the former; Naro, Sandawe, and Zulu use the latter.


Features of postalveolar clicks:

  • The basic articulation may be voiced, nasal, aspirated, glottalized, etc.
  • The forward place of articulation is alveolar or postalveolar, depending on the language, and apical, which means it is articulated with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge or the roof of the mouth behind the alveolar ridge. (Damin contrasted these two articulations as separate phonemes.) The release is a sharp, plosive sound in southern Africa, but in Hadza and Sandawe they are frequently flapped, with the underside of the tip of the tongue striking the floor of the mouth after the release of the click; in some cases, the release is rather faint, and it is this sub-apical percussive sound that dominates.
  • Clicks may be oral or nasal, which means that the airflow is either restricted to the mouth, or passes through the nose as well.
  • They are central consonants, which means they are produced by releasing the airstream at the center of the tongue, rather than at the sides.
  • The airstream mechanism is lingual ingressive (also known as velaric ingressive), which means a pocket of air trapped between two closures is rarefied by a "sucking" action of the tongue, rather than being moved by the glottis or the lungs/diaphragm. The release of the forward closure produces the "click" sound. Voiced and nasal clicks have a simultaneous pulmonic egressive airstream.


English does not have an alveolar click (or any click consonant, for that matter) as a phoneme, but a plain alveolar click does occur in mimesis, as a sound children use to imitate a horse trotting.[3]

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
!Kung an [ᵑǃáŋ] = [ʗ̃áŋ] 'inside'
Hadza laqo [laǃo] = [laʗo] 'to trip'
keqhena [keǃʰena] = [keʗʰena] 'to be slow'
henqee [ɦeᵑǃeʔe] = [ɦeʗ̃eʔe] 'dead leopard'
teqqe [teᵑǃˀe] = [teʗ̃ˀe] 'to carry'
Sotho ho qoqa [hoǃɔǃɑ] = [hoʗɔʗɑ] 'to examine' Contrasts with murmured, aspirated, and alveolar nasal clicks. See Sotho phonology
Xhosa iqanda [iǃanda] = [iʗanda] 'egg' Contrasts with murmured, aspirated, and alveolar nasal clicks
ǃXóõ ǃqhàà [ǃ͡qʰɑ̀ː] = [ʗ͡qʰɑ̀ː] 'water' An aspirated linguo-pulmonic stop
Zulu iqaqa [iːǃáːǃa] = [iːʗáːʗa] 'polecat' Contrasts with murmured, aspirated, and alveolar nasal clicks.

"Fricated" alveolar clicks

A series of clicks in Ekoka !Kung have been variously described as retroflex or fricated alveolar clicks. See Domed palatal clicks.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Kirshembaum assigned c! to IPA ʗ, which he used indifferently for both alveolar ǃ and palatal ǂ clicks.
  2. ^ Pullum & Ladusaw, Phonetic symbol guide, p. 34
  3. ^ Tucker et al. (1977), The East-African Click Languages: A Phonetic Comparison