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Prehistoric Bantu-Khoisan language contact

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A cross-disciplinary approach

image of Language Dynamics and Change

Click consonants are one of the hallmarks of “Khoisan” languages of southern Africa. They are also found in some Bantu languages, where they are usually assumed to have been copied from Khoisan languages. We review the southern African Bantu languages with clicks and discuss in what way they may have obtained these unusual consonants. We draw on both linguistic data and genetic results to gain insights into the sociocultural processes that may have played a role in the prehistoric contact. Our results show that the copying of clicks accompanied large-scale inmarriage of Khoisan women into Bantu-speaking communities and took place in situations where the Khoisan communities may have had relatively high prestige. In the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier region, these events must have occurred at an early stage of the Bantu immigration, possibly because small groups of food producers entering a new territory were dependent on the autochthonous communities for local knowledge.

Affiliations: 1: CNRS & Université Lyon 2 ; 2: Ghent University ; 3: Northern Arizona University ; 4: Ghent University


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