Alveolar click


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.

Alveolar click
(plain velar)
IPA Number178, 202
Entity (decimal)ǃ​ʗ
Unicode (hex)U+01C3 U+0297
Braille⠯ (braille pattern dots-12346)⠞ (braille pattern dots-2345)
Audio sample
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Voiced alveolar click
Alveolar nasal click
Audio sample
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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 vertical bar with a subscript dot, 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⟩.[1] Either letter may be combined with a second letter to indicate the manner of articulation, though this is commonly omitted for tenuis clicks.

In official IPA transcription, the click letter is combined with a ⟨k ɡ ŋ q ɢ ɴ⟩ via a tie bar, though ⟨k⟩ is frequently omitted. Many authors instead use a superscript ⟨k ɡ ŋ q ɢ ɴ⟩ without the tie bar, again often neglecting the ⟨k⟩. Either letter, whether baseline or superscript, is usually placed before the click letter, but may come after when the release of the velar or uvular occlusion is audible. A third convention is the click letter with diacritics for voicelessness, voicing and nasalization; it does not distinguish velar from uvular alveolar clicks. Common alveolar clicks are:

Trans. I Trans. II Trans. III Description
k͜ǃ ᵏǃ ǃ tenuis alveolar click
k͜ǃʰ ᵏǃʰ ǃʰ aspirated alveolar click
ɡ͜ǃ ᶢǃ ǃ̬ voiced alveolar click
ŋ͜ǃ ᵑǃ ǃ̃ alveolar nasal click
ŋ͜ǃ̥̥ʰʰ ᵑǃ̥ʰʰ ǃ̥̃ʰʰ aspirated alveolar nasal click
ŋ͜ǃˀ ᵑǃˀ ǃ̃ˀ glottalized alveolar nasal click
q͜ǃ 𐞥ǃ tenuis alveolar click
q͜ǃʰ 𐞥ǃʰ aspirated alveolar click
ɢ͜ǃ 𐞒ǃ voiced alveolar click
ɴ͜ǃ ᶰǃ alveolar nasal click
ɴ͜ǃ̥ʰʰ ᶰǃ̥ʰʰ aspirated alveolar nasal click
ɴ͜ǃˀ ᶰǃˀ 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 vertical bar symbol of the IPA, ⟨ǃ⟩, or on the Latin ⟨q⟩ of Bantu convention. Khoekhoe and most Bushman 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 often 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 other click consonant) as a phoneme, but a plain alveolar click does occur in mimesis, as a sound children use to imitate a horse trotting.[2]

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 chat/converse' 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 releaseEdit

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.[3] 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; a slapped click is therefore transcribed ⟨ǃ͡¡⟩ or ⟨ǃꜞ⟩ (or ⟨ʗ͡¡, ʗꜞ⟩). The percussive allophones of the five Sandawe alveolar clicks are [ǃ͡¡, ǃ͡¡ʰ, ᶢǃ͡¡, ᵑǃ͡¡, ᵑǃ͡¡ˀ] (or [ʗꜞ ʗꜞʰ ʗ̬ꜞ ʗ̃ꜞ ʗ̃ꜞˀ]).

Nasal clicks that fit this description are used by speakers of Gan Chinese (from Ningdu county) and of Mandarin (from Beijing and Jilin), and presumably people from other parts of the country, with varying degrees of competence in nursery rhymes for the words for 'goose' and 'duck', both of which begin with /ŋ/ in Gan and until recently began with /ŋ/ in Mandarin as well. In Gan, the nursery rhyme is (disregarding tone),

tʰien i tsʰak ᵑǃ͡¡o 'a goose in the sky'
ti ha i tsʰak ᵑǃ͡¡a 'a duck on the ground'
ᵑǃ͡¡o saŋ ᵑǃ͡¡o tʰan, ᵑǃ͡¡o pʰau ᵑǃ͡¡o 'a goose lays a goose egg, a goose hatches a goose'
ᵑǃ͡¡a saŋ ᵑǃ͡¡a tʰan, ᵑǃ͡¡a pʰau ᵑǃ͡¡a 'a duck lays a duck egg, a duck hatches a duck'

where the /ŋ/ onsets are all pronounced [ǃ̃¡].[4]

"Fricated" alveolar clicksEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pullum & Ladusaw, Phonetic Symbol Guide, p. 34
  2. ^ Tucker et al. (1977), The East-African Click Languages: A Phonetic Comparison
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Geoffrey Nathan, 'Clicks in a Chinese Nursery Rhyme', JIPA (2001) 31/2.

External linksEdit

  • List of languages with [ǃ] on PHOIBLE