Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 37 (Volume publication date October 2008)
A Historical Appraisal of Clicks: A Linguistic and Genetic Population Perspective
Tom Güldemann, Mark Stoneking
Clicks are often considered an exotic feature of languages, and the fact that certain African "Khoisan" groups share the use of clicks as consonants and exhibit deep genetic divergences has been argued to indicate that clicks trace back to an early common ancestral language (Knight et al. 2003). Here, we review the linguistic evidence concerning the use of click sounds in languages and the genetic evidence concerning the relationships of African click-speaking groups. The linguistic evidence suggests that genealogical inheritance and contact-induced transmission are equally relevant for the distribution of clicks in African languages. The genetic evidence indicates that there has been substantial genetic drift in some groups, obscuring their genetic relationships. Overall, the presence of clicks in human languages may in fact not trace back to the dawn of human language, but instead reflect a much later episode in the diversification of human speech.