The Sound of the Sandawe language (Numbers, Words & The Parable)

The Sound of the Sandawe language (Numbers, Words & The Parable)

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Sandawe (Sandaweeki)
Native to: Tanzania
Region: Rift Valley
Ethnicity: Sandawe
Native speakers: 60,000 (2013) estimates run from 30,000 to 90,000
Language family: Language isolate, possibly related to the Khoe–Kwadi languages

Sandawe is a language spoken by about 60,000 Sandawe people in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania. Sandawe’s use of click consonants, a rare feature shared with only two other language of East Africa – Hadza and Dahalo, had been the basis of its classification as a member of the defunct Khoisan family of Southern Africa since Albert Drexel in the 1920s. Recent investigations however (Güldemann 2010) suggest that Sandawe may be related to the Khoe family regardless of the validity of Khoisan as a whole. A discussion of Sandawe’s linguistic classification can be found in Sands (1998).

Language use is vigorous among both adults and children, with people in some areas monolingual. Sandawe has two dialects, northwest and southeast. Differences include speaking speed, vowel dropping, some word taboo, and minor lexical and grammatical differences. Some Alagwa have shifted to Sandawe, and are considered a Sandawe clan.

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 (since 2002) studied by Sander Steeman of Leiden University.

The most promising candidate as a relative of Sandawe are the Khoe languages of Botswana and Namibia. Most of the putative cognates Greenberg (1976) gives as evidence for Sandawe being a Khoisan language in fact tie Sandawe to Khoe. Gueldemann and Elderkin have strengthened that connection, with several dozen likely cognates, while casting doubts on other Khoisan connections. Although there are not enough similarities to reconstruct a Proto-Khoe–Sandawe language, there are enough to suggest that the connection is real. However, other linguists have criticized the proposal as cherry-picking among a large number of non-matching pronominal forms.


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