Sandawe language

From Academic Kids

Sandawe is a tonal language spoken in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. Reported speaker numbers vary between 30 000 (Tucker, 1977) and 70 000 (SIL/Ethnologue 1987). Sandawe is classified as a Khoisan language by Greenberg (1976). This classification is motivated by the presence of clicks in the language and by several morphological similarities. A more recent discussion of Sandawe's linguistic classification can be found in Sands (1998).

SIL International began work on Sandawe in 1996 and to date (2004), Daniel and Elisabeth Hunziker and Helen Eaton continue to work on the analysis of the language. They have so far produced a phonological description, a dialect survey report and several papers on aspects of grammar. Sandawe is also currently (as of 2004) studied by Sander Steeman of Leiden University.




Sandawe has five vowel qualities:

i u
e o

All five vowel qualities may be found as short oral, long oral and long nasal vowels. There are therefore fifteen vowel phonemes. In word-final position, devoiced u and i vowels occur frequently.


Non-click consonants

[not written yet]


(source: De Voogt 1992:53,54)

Dental Lateral Lamino-postalveolar
Glottalised ʔǀ ʔǁ ʔǃ
Glottalised with delayed release ǀʔ ǁʔ ǃʔ
Aspirated ǀʰ ǁʰ ǃʰ
Nasal ŋǀ ŋǁ ŋǃ



Sandawe English
1 sg. -s I
2 sg. -i you
3 sg. male - he
3 sg. female -s she
1 pl -w we
2 pl - you
3 pl they

Syllable structure

Sandawe syllables are usually of the form CV; in monosyllabic words, word-final nasals are not uncommon, CV(N). Sometimes other consonants are found in word-final position, but this is most probably the result of deletion of word-final voiceless vowels. A syllabic nasal m is found in Swahili loanwords. The most common word structure is disyllabic with or without long vowels (CV(:)CV(:)), according to De Voogt (1992).


A noun consists generally of a stem and a suffix which indicates gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular, plural).

[suffixes to be added]


Adjectival concepts are mostly expressed as verbs in Sandawe according to Kagawe (1993:ix).


Basic word order in Sandawe is SOV according to De Voogt (1992). However, word order in the Sandawe sentence is very flexible due to the presence of several 'subject identification strategies'.

Sample sentence (mid tones are not marked):

te-s kx'ar-s hʔ!
yesterday-I boy-I called
Yesterday I called a boy
(source: De Voogt 1992:19 adapted from Tucker 1977)


Elderkin (1989) analyzes Sandawe as having two level tones (High, Low) and two contour tones (Falling, Rising). His thesis considers the behavior of tone at word-, sentence- and discourse-level. De Voogt (1992) and Kagaya (1993) list three level tones (High, Mid, Low) and two contour tones (Falling, Rising).


Greenberg (1976) gives the following arguments for its classification as Khoisan, as well as about 50 claimed Sandawe-Khoisan vocabulary similarities:

  • Personal pronouns: tsi "I" (cf. Hottentot, Naron ti, Hietshware či; sa "she" (cf. Hottentot -s, Naron -sa); e "it" (Hottentot -i nominative, -e accusative), ha-we "he" (cf. Naron xa-ba); ha-su, he-su "she" (cf. Naron xa-sa)
  • Demonstratives: ha "that" (cf. /Xam, Batwa ha, Naron xa, Hietshware ho); he "this" (Korana he); na "there" (common Southern Bushman, Hottentot //na); ne "here" (Hottentot ne)
  • Plural suffixes: -si feminine plural (Naron -si, Hottentot -ti, Northern Bushman, /Auni -si common plural); -ko masculine plural (Hottentot -ku, /Xam -gu personal plural)
  • Adjective formant -se (cf. Auen -si, Hottentot -se, Naron -.)
  • Verbal suffixes: reciprocal -ki (cf. Naron, Hottentot -ku)

However, this classification is regarded with scepticism by many linguists, and a common ancestor of Sandawe and Khoisan has yet to be reconstructed.

Further reading


  • Dobashi, Yoshihito (2001) 'Agreement and Word Order in Sandawe' In Cornell Working Papers in Linguistics, 2001, 18, pp 57-74.
  • Eaton, Helen C. (2002) 'A Grammar of Focus in Sandawe' (Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Reading).
  • Elderkin, Edward D. (1989) 'The Significance and Origin of the Use of Pitch in Sandawe' (Unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of York).
  • Kagaya, Ryohei (1993) 'A Classified Vocabulary of The Sandawe Language', Asian & African Lexicon vol 26. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).
  • Sands, Bonny E. (1998) 'Eastern and Southern African Khoisan: evaluating claims of distant linguistic relationships.' Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung 14. Kln: Kppe.
  • Voogt, A.J. de (1992) Some phonetic aspects of Hatsa and Sandawe clicks (Unpublished MA thesis in African Linguistics, Leiden University).

See also

External links



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