LINGUIST List 14.2531

Tue Sep 23 2003

Disc: New: Genetic clicks?

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Christopher Bader, Genetic clicks?

Message 1: Genetic clicks?

Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003 10:40:07 +0000
From: Christopher Bader <>
Subject: Genetic clicks?

Re: Linguist 14.2498 and Linguist 14.2493
You can find a synopsis of this proposal at 

In this month's issue of _Discover_, there's an item about some
> research by geneticists Alec Knight and Joanna Mountain, originally
> reported in March in _Current Biology_, on the presence of clicks in
> the languages of the Hadzabe people of Tanzania and the Juj'haonsi of
> `southwestern Africa' (Namibia? can't seem to find it in my copy of
> the _Ethnologue_). It is apparently suggested that the fact that
> these two ethnic groups, otherwise quite unrelated to each other
> (genetically), both have clicks in their languages must mean that the
> clicks are inherited from the language of their last common ancestor,
> which Knight & Mountain estimate must have flourished over 40,000
> years ago.

I would suggest this as a topic for discussion on this list, since
this hypothesis has been widely bruited in the popular press (e.g. in
the New York Times), and seems to me to hinge on the following
ludicrous syllogism:

Two (perhaps geographically proximate) languages share a distinctive
phonological feature. This feature is typologically unusual.
Therefore, the two languages are genetically related.

As a relevant counter-example, specifically in the case of clicks, we
need look no farther than Khoisan and Xhosa.

Christopher Bader (Ph.D.)
Director, Core Technology
Unveil Technologies
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