Southern Africa
Geographic location: Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa
Number of Languages: 65
Number of Genetic Units: 6
Genetic Index: 0.092
Endangerment Index: to be determined
Research Index: to be determined
Threat Level: low
map of SAF hotspot


The Southern Africa hotspot covers a sparsely populated area, but one that is full of diverse languages. This area includes dry savannas, mountains, the Namib Desert, and the Kalahari Desert.  Languages and knowledge systems in the area are endangered because of the dramatic changes in the way of life of groups throughout the area in the last 50 years.

One group whose way of life has changed dramatically in the last 50 years is the !Kung of Namibia and Botswana, who have switched from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming and herding cattle. With this change, !Kung speakers have lost traditional knowledge about hunting and gathering permanently, as there is no !Kung writing system. The exclamation point in !Kung represents a click – in fact, a particular kind of click. Many languages in Africa, as well as a few in other parts of the world, clicks as part of their consonant system. !Kung has four different click sounds.

Languages and genetic units in this hotspot:

  1. Bantu
  2. Central Khoisan
  3. Germanic
  4. Northern Khoisan
  5. Southern Khoisan
  6. Unclassified (Yauma)
  1. !O!ung
  2. !Xóõ
  3. Afrikaans
  4. Birwa
  5. Chokwe
  6. Diriku
  7. éAni
  8. éGwi
  9. Fwe
  10. Gciriku
  11. Haiíom
  12. Herero
  13. Hietshware
  14. íGana
  15. Ila
  16. Jué’hoan
  17. Kalanga
  18. Kaonde
  19. Kgalagadi
  20. Khwe
  21. Kua
  22. Kuhane
  23. Kunda
  24. Kung-Ekoka
  25. Kwadi [extinct]
  26. Kwambi
  27. Kwangali
  28. Kwanyama
  29. Kxoe
  30. Lozi
  31. Luchazi
  32. Luvale
  33. Luyana
  34. Mashi
  35. Mbangala
  36. Mbowe
  37. Mbukushu
  38. Mbunda
  39. Nama
  40. Nambya
  41. Naro
  42. Ndonga
  43. Néu
  44. Nkoya
  45. Nyengo
  46. Sala
  47. Shua
  48. Simaa
  49. Sotho N
  50. Subiya
  51. Tonga
  52. Tsoa
  53. Tswana
  54. Tswapong
  55. ú Hua
  56. úKx’auí’ein
  57. Xiri
  58. Yauma
  59. Yeyi
  60. Zezuru

Click here to download list of languages

Endangered languages include:

  • Kua (817 speakers, Central Khoisan)
  • Néu (< 10 speakers, Southern Khoisan)
  • ú Hua (200 speakers, Southern Khoisan)
  • Xiri (87 speakers, Central Khoisan)

Language revitalization efforts include:

Some features of languages include:

  • Voice quality contrasts in vowels (breathy and creaky voice)
  • Clicks
  • Grammatical tone


  • In ||Gana (800 speakers, Botswana; the two lines are a click), plants and animals are split into three categories: edible 'eat-things' (kx'ooxo), harmful 'bite-things' (paaxo), and 'useless things' (goõwahaxo).



courtesy of Ironbound films, Hanna Köper, speaker of N|u

Wiyeyi group

Shikati Kamanakao, Lydia Ramahobo, Mr Meti, Mr. Mocks Kututo and Mr. Otukile Supang, members of the Kamanakao Association, a group working to promote Wayeyi culture and language. From


Maho, Jouni. 1998. Few people, many tongues: the languages of Namibia. Gamsberg: Macmillan Publishers.

Andersson, Lars-Gunnar & Tore Janson. 1997. Languages in Botswana: language ecology in southern Africa. Longman Botswana: Gaborone.

Howell, Nancy. Demography of the Dobe !Kung. Aldine Transaction.

Shostak, Marjorie. Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. James & James/Earthscan