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The Hadza language, called Hadzane by its people, is an endangered language isolate spoken in the region surrounding Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. Though it has persisted for thousands of years, threats to the future of the Hadza people are compromising one of the worlds most distinct and ancient languages.
Less than 800 people speak Hadzane today, and the number of fluent speakers is in decline. (www.ethnologue.com)
The Hadza people, who call themselves the Hadzabe, are a culture of nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in Tanzania. Isolated through their remarkably steadfast tradition, they have changed little in 10,000 years.
The Hadza people live along the shore of Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. Though they have lived in this area for thousands of years, their range has been restricted by the encroachment of agriculture and the designation of state parks.
Analysis of the genetic diversity of the Hadza people in relation to the San click language speakers places the split between the lineages at 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. (Knight) Since the split, the Hadza have remained both isolated and distinct linguistically, genetically, and culturally. (Pennisi)
About thirty extant languages from three language families have click consonants. All but two of these languages are spoken in southern Africa. The other two, Sandawe and Hadza, are language isolates that have been designated as their own language families. (Miller) Traditionally, these languages have been grouped as Khoisan languages, a category made to include all extant african click languages. Only one non-african language that uses clicks, an extinct aboriginal language called Damin, has been recognized. (Pennisi)
About 120,000 people still speak a click language. (Pennisi) Of those, about 80,000 speak a San language, 40,000 speak Sandawe, and less than 800 speak Hadza. Both Sandawe and Hadza are languages isolates and therefore a conservation priority. Hadza, however, has far fewer speakers and is thus a higher conservation priority. (Ethnologue)
Analysis of the Hadza lexis and grammatical structure has revealed it to be unrelated to any other click language. There are two possible explanation: Hadza originated on its own, or it is related through an ancient proto-click language. (Pennisi)
Hadza has no written language. When written phonetically using English characters, the three different types of clicks, dental, alveopalatal, and lateral, are coded by using |, !, and ||, respectively. While these designate the type of click, there are also variations within each click. The variation in clicks poses many difficulty in translating spoken Hadza into written Hadza.
Listen to hadza words spoken in the UCLA phonetics database
Hadza is the exonym for the Hadza language, while Hadzane is the endonym. Hadza is the root, while the suffix -ne indicates a language. Similarly, Hadza is the exonym for the Hadza people, who call themselves Hadzabe, where -be is the suffix that indicates people.
All nouns in the Hadza language are gendered and singular and plural. Hadza is a singular masculine noun, which also serves as a root. Hadzabe, which is the the Hadza people’s endonym, is plural and feminine. A single Hadza woman would call herself hadzako, while a group of Hadza men would call themselves hadzabii.
A group of two or more Hadza men call themselves hadzabii
Due to the Hadza’s rigorous language use and strong tradition, Hadzane has an advantage over many other endangered languages in Africa. The Hadza people have proven to be an extremely resilient culture, persisting in isolation through the advent of pastoralism and agriculture. Today, however, land use issues and cultural diffusion present more of a challenge to the future of the Hadza people and their language than ever before.
The Hadzabe’s land has been decreased dramatically in the past 60 years.
Of the endangered African languages, Hadza is relatively well studied due to its ancient roots. Many hope that by studying the Hadza people, we can learn more about our own origins as human beings. Similarly, by learning about the Hadza language, we may learn more about the origin of language itself.
A handful of organizations are working to preserve the Hadza language. Efforts are spearheaded by Kirk Miller, who has worked more recently to create a Hadza dictionary. Research into the Hadza is progressing, but it is mostly focused on the Hadza because they may offer clues into the origins of modern humanity and human movement out of Africa.
Knight, Alec, Underhill, Peter A. and Holly M. Mortensen et al. (2003) African Y Chromosome and mtDNA Divergence Provides Insight into the History of Click Languages, Current Biology, 13:6, 464-473.
Pennisi, Elizabeth. (2004) The First Language? Science. 303. 1319-1320.
Sands, Bonny; Maddieson, Ian; Ladefoged, Peter (1993). “The phonetic structures of Hadza”. Fieldwork studies of targeted languages. UCLA working papers in phonetics. pp. 67–87.
Tishkoff, Sarah A., Gonder, Mary Katherine, and Henn, Brenna M. et al. (2007) History of Click-Speaking Populations of Africa Inferred from mtDNA and Y Chromosome Genetic Variation. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 24.