The ǂKhomani San of the southern Kalahari speak three languages. The language of the work-place, and the language urged upon them by the Boer farmers they worked for, was Afrikaans —  the lingua franca of the region. Many also speak Khoekhoegowab, the language of the Nama, often referred to colloquially as Namataal or Hotnotstaal. Nǀuu, the original San language of the region, had been declared extinct in 1974. But from 1996 to 1997 several speakers of this language were found, and took central roles in the land claim's research. This is often referred to locally as Outaal or Boesmantaal. At the time of the filmmaking, there were approximately 20 Nǀuu speakers in the larger Northern Cape area. Many have now died, and today there are only a few left – Katrina Esau (Ouma Geelmeid), Griet Seekoei, Johanna Koper and Claudia du Plessis. Nǀuu is the last remaining language of the !Ui branch of the Tuu family (Southern Khoesan) grouping of languages. It is also a close relative to the now extinct ǀXam language which was recorded by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The search for surviving speakers of Nǀuu, to record, understand and, in due course, create an orthography for their language, became an important series of projects that continued from 1996 to the present.  All the films made with Nǀuu speakers, along with full transcriptions and translations of all that was recorded, is included in the archive along with all the Afrikaans and Khoekhoegowab recordings.

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Nigel Crawhall was the first person to recognise that there was an original San language being spoken.  Together with Hugh Brody, he led the search for speakers, and filmed with them as soon as they were found.  Levi Namaseb undertook an intensive study of Nǀuu and developed an orthography for it.  He wrote his PhD thesis that explored linguistic comparisons between Nǀuu and Khoekhoegowab. Subsequently a number of linguists have contributed to the research into and further support for its survival. These include Bonny Sands, Amanda Miller, Johanna Brugman, Chris Collins, Mats Exter and Tom Güldemann. Matthias Brenzinger and Sheena Shah of the Centre for African Language Diversity (CALDi) are also working with the community on readers and resources in support of  the language. Kerry Jones has continued the work on Nǀuu translations in collaboration with the remaining Nǀuu speakers. Crucial support for this has come from; Katrina Esau (Ouma  Geelmeid), Griet Seekoei, Johanna Koper, Claudia du Plessis, Betta Steyn, Niklaas Fredericks, and Bonny Sands. In Rosedale, there is a San community school dedicated to the teaching of Nǀuu (see Gazing at the Stars).



|Una Rooi teaching N|uu

|Una Rooi teaches children N|uu in the Andriesvale Hall

|Una Rooi was instrumental in the data collection process for the Land Claim application. Born in 1931, she was a fluent N|uu speaker and taught N|uu and San cultural history to children in Andriesvale, Northern Cape. Member of Council of Elders. Born in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park in 1931. She passed away in 2012.


Nigel Crawhall and Petrus Vaalbooi display trilingual word lists.

Nigel Crawhall and Petrus Vaalbooi display trilingual word lists

Nigel Crawhall and Petrus Vaalbooi hold up a trilingual (N|uu, Afrikaans and Nama) language word list during one of their research trips to the Kalahari.

Petrus was a former chairperson of the San Council and a member of the Community Property Association. He was  one of the first community members to go overseas to promote the land claims process. Petrus worked alongside his mother, Elsie Vaalbooi, to locate other N|uu speakers in the townships in and around Upington.  


A manuscript dealing with the tenses of the !Xũ language

Created by Ernst Westphal, a Professor of African Languages at University of Cape Town between 1962 and 1984. Westphal is best known for his contributions to the studies of non-Bantu click languages, lumped together under a misleading cover term ‘Khoisan’ by other scholars. The Westphal sound files are precious because they include recordings of some languages, which are no longer spoken and of which there is no written record.

View the manuscript ...


Enchance our collection

The ǂKhomani San were scattered over the Northern Cape over a long period of dispossession. In the documentation process undertaken by SASI and the Brody team, not all the information was recorded. The ǂKhomani community is invited to submit information that is missing or needs improvement. Please submit your enhancements to the collection.