Alveolar clicks

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Alveolar click
IPA Number 178, 202
Audio sample
Entity (decimal) &#451;​&#663;
Unicode (hex) U+01C3 U+0297
Braille ⠯ (braille pattern dots-12346) ⠞ (braille pattern dots-2345)
Voiced alveolar click
Alveolar nasal click
Audio sample

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
ǃorʗ Tenuis alveolar click
ǃʰorʗʰ aspirated alveolar click
ǃ̬orʗ̬ ᶢǃorᶢʗ Voiced alveolar click
ǃ̃orʗ̃ ᵑǃorᵑʗ Alveolar nasal click
ǃ̥̃ʰorʗ̃̊ʰ ᵑ̊ǃʰorᵑ̊ʗʰ Aspirated alveolar nasal click
ǃ̃ˀorʗ̃ˀ ᵑǃˀorᵑʗˀ 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 Sandawe it may be percussive, with the underside of the tip of the tongue striking the floor of the mouth after the release of the click (see below), and in Hadza the release is ofter quite weak.
  • 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'
Sandawe gqokomi [ǃ̬okomi] = [ʗ̬okomi] 'greater kudu' may have a slapped release: [ǃ̬͡¡okomi] = [ʗ̬͡¡okomi]
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.

Percussive release

Percussive alveolar click

In Sandawe, alveolar clicks commonly have a ballistic release, with the underside of the tip of the tongue subsequently striking the floor of the mouth.[4] This allophone has been called "flapped" and "slapped". Sometimes the percussive slap is louder than the release, resulting in a sound that has been characterized as a "cluck". The symbol for the sublingual percussive component is ⟨¡⟩ in the extensions to the IPA;[5] a slapped click is therefore transcribed ⟨ǃ͡¡⟩ (or ⟨ʗ͡¡⟩. The percussive allophones of the five Sandawe alveolar clicks are [ǃ͡¡, ǃ͡¡ʰ, ᶢǃ͡¡, ᵑǃ͡¡, ᵑǃ͡¡ˀ] (or [ʗ͡¡ ʗ͜¡ʰ ʗ̬͡¡ ʗ̃͜¡ ʗ̃͜¡ˀ]).

"Fricated" alveolar clicks

A series of clicks in Ekoka !Kung have been variously described as retroflex or fricated alveolar clicks. See domed palatal clicks.

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
  4. Wright, Richard, Ian Maddieson, Peter Ladefoged, Bonny Sands (1995). "A phonetic study of Sandawe clicks", UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics, No. 91: Fieldwork Studies in Targeted Languages III.
  5. Described as a "sublaminal lower-alveolar percussive click", though strictly speaking it is not a click as it is not ingressive.