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Summary Details

Query:   Paralinguictic clicks (summary)
Author:  Mark Jones
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   Re: Paralinguistic clicks

Some weeks ago (March 17th) I posted a query about the use of paralinguistic

clicks. The aim was to determine:

1) paralinguistic click use;
2) which clicks are used;
3) what they symbolise;
4) whether repetition is common, e.g. as in English ''tut
5) writing conventions.

David Gil, of the Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology, Leipzig is writing a chapter on paralinguistic clicks for the World
Atlas of Language Structures with data from over 150 languages.

The responses I received are summarised below.

Dental clicks were the most commonly reported, occurring in English, Swedish, German, French, Greek, Vietnamese, Turkish, Ukrainian, Israeli Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Marathi.

Meanings varied. Many languages (English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Swedish, Vietnamese, German, Ukrainian, Israeli Hebrew, and Marathi) used the [/] to express sympathy and or disapproval. These two meanings were often mentioned together. Repeated clicks appear to be very common (not Vietnamese).

Meaning differences may be attached to the repetition, with a longer series denoting more sympathy in some languages. They may also be threatening (in English). Turkish uses a long series of [/] clicks for astonishment, and one for negation (see below).

Other languages (Italian, Greek, Turkish, Israeli Hebrew, Albanian, Bulgarian) used one [/] (often with lip-rounding) to express 'no'. A backward movement of the head accompanies this.

Israeli Hebrew is reported to have labialised [/] for 'no' and [/] for hesitation. Other clicks were far less frequent. Bilabial clicks were reported for English and Spanish to indicate approval. It was suggested that this might be a vulgar usage by men towards women in Spanish.

Lateral clicks were reportedly used to urge horses in a number of languages (English, German, Swedish, French, Brazilian Portuguese), but symbolise disgust in Marathi.

A retroflex click [!] might indicate surprise or embarrassment in English, or be used to stop a horse.A palatal click in Marathi can express refusal. In English, this may represent distaste.

Brazilian Portuguese uses a dental click + the syllable [ah] to express disgust. Most reports did not mention written forms. Vietnamese uses the form ''chak'' (with a subscript dot and hacek on the 'a' to illustrate tone) for [/]. German [/] may be written ''ts ts ts'' and pronounced [ts@ ts@ ts@]. It may also be so pronounced (just as 'tut tut' can be in English). Note that the spelling is not ''z z z''.

My thanks to those who contributed info on clicks: Hany Babu, Sarah Bunin Benor, Daniel Buncic, Phillip Carr, Gabi Danon, James L. Fidelholtz, David Gil, Larry Horn, David Palfreyman, Mikael Parkvall, Andrea Pham, Christina Tortora, R?my Viredaz, Dom Watt, Sabine Zerbian, and Ana Zilles.

If anyone is inspired to contact me with more information (both positive and negative, i.e. ''my language does *not* have clicks''), please feel free to get in touch at

Many thanks,


Mark J. Jones
Department of Linguistics
University of Cambridge

LL Issue: 14.1250
Date Posted: 02-May-2003
Original Query: Read original query


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