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Lateral clicks

Alveolar lateral click
IPA number 180
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Kirshenbaum tl!
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Voiced alveolar lateral click
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Kirshenbaum dl!
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Alveolar nasal lateral click
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Kirshenbaum nl!
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The lateral clicks are a family of click consonants found only in African languages. The clicking sound used by equestrians to urge on their horses is a lateral click, although it is not a speech sound in that context. Alveolar lateral clicks are found throughout southern Africa and in two languages in Tanzania.

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the place of articulation of these sounds is ǁ, a double pipe. Prior to 1989, ʖ was the IPA letter for the lateral clicks, and this is still preferred by some phoneticians, as the pipe may be confounded with prosody marks and, in some fonts, with a double el. 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 lateral clicks are:

IPA I IPA II Description
ǁ or ʖ tenuis alveolar lateral click
ǁʰ or ʖʰ aspirated alveolar lateral click
ǁ̬ or ʖ̬ ᶢǁ or ᶢʖ voiced alveolar lateral click
ǁ̃ or ʖ̃ ᵑǁ or ᵑʖ alveolar lateral nasal click
ǁ̥̃ʰ or ʖ̥̃ʰ ᵑ̊ǁʰ or ᵑ̊ʖʰ aspirated alveolar lateral nasal click
ǁ̃ˀ or ʖ̃ˀ ᵑǁˀ or ᵑʖˀ glottalized alveolar lateral nasal click

The last is what is heard in the sound sample above, as non-native speakers tend to glottalize clicks to avoid nasalizing them.

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


Most lateral clicks are alveolar. However, the specific articulation may vary from language to language, from dental to alveolar, though no contrast between such articulations has been confirmed apart from the retroflex clicks, which may have lateral release.

Features of alveolar lateral clicks:

  • The basic articulation may be voiced, nasal, aspirated, glottalized, etc.
  • The forward place of articulation is apical alveolar, which means it is articulated with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. The release is a noisy, affricate-like sound in southern Africa, but abrupt in Hadza and Sandawe in East Africa.
  • 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 lateral consonants, which means they are produced by releasing the airstream at the side of the tongue, rather than in the middle. Some speakers pronounce them on one side of the mouth, some on both.
  • 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.

Regarding Khoekhoe, Tindall notes that European learners almost invariably pronounce these sounds as simple laterals, by placing the tongue against the side teeth, and that this articulation is "harsh and foreign to the native ear". The Namaqua instead cover the whole of the palate with the tongue, and produce the sound "as far back in the palate as possible".[1]


English does not have a lateral click (or any click consonant, for that matter) as a phoneme, but a plain alveolar lateral click does occur as an interjection, usually written tchick! or tchek! (and often reduplicated tchick-tchick!), used to urge a horse to move.

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
ǃKung an [ᵑǁàŋ] = [ʖ̃àŋ] 'marama bean'
Hadza exekeke [ʔeǁekeke] = [ʔeʖekeke] 'to listen'
naxhi [naǁʰi] = [naʖʰi] 'to crowd'
konxa [koᵑǁa] = [koʖ̃a] 'to be a pair'
slaxxa [ɬaᵑǁˀa] = [ɬaʖ̃ˀa] 'a split, fork'
Xhosa isiXhosa [isiǁʰosa] = [isiʖʰosa] 'Xhosa language' Contrasts tenuis, murmured, aspirated, and nasal lateral clicks.
!Xóõ ǁnáã [ᵑǁɑ́ɑ̃] = [ʖ̃ɑ́ɑ̃] 'grewia berry'
Zulu xoxa [ǁɔ́ːǁa] = [ʖɔ́ːʖa] 'to converse'

See also


  1. ^ Tindal (1858) A grammar and vocabulary of the Namaqua-Hottentot language
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William A. (1996). Phonetic Symbol Guide. University of Chicago Press. p. 178.