The phonemic use of clicks is quite rare in languages of the world: they are restricted to languages in southern Africa. Clicks occur in all three groups of Khoisan language families and in the neighbouring Bantu languages which borrowed them (Zulu, Khoisan, Swazi, Ndebele). The video adjacent is an X-ray recording of some of the Zulu clicks by a female native speaker who reads a short Zulu sentence 'Iqaqa lega umgwaqo namaqanda ezinkukhu aqhuma athi qhu' (A polecat crosses the road with eggs of chicken and they burst making a qhu sound).

The paralinguistic use of clicks is very common in languages of the world: the dental click is said to express annoyance, concern or regret, while the lateral click is used to persuade horses to start or to accelerate. Recently, there has been research which shows that clicks may serve an organisational function in discourse in that they can be used to mark the transition between one topic of conversation to another (Wright, 2011).

The IPA provides 5 click symbols: labial, dental, alveolar, palate-alveolar and lateral. These symbols specify the anterior release of these sounds. In order to indicate voicing the symbol for the voiced or voiceless velar plosive is added (clicks are essentially double articulations). Nasal clicks are transcribed by adding the symbol for the velar nasal.

References:

Wright, M. (2011). On clicks in English talk-in-interaction. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 41/2, pp. 207-229.

LABIAL •
Voiceless
DENTAL •
Click
ALVEOLAR •
PALATO-ALVEOLAR •
ALVEOLAR LATERAL •
ALVEOLAR •
• PALATO-ALVEOLAR

Clicks are sounds which are made on an oral or velaric airstream mechanism. The back of the tongue makes contact with the velum and there is a second more anterior contact between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. There is a small amount of air trapped between both closures. The back of the tongue is drawn backwards while maintaining contact with the velum: as a result the pocket of air between both closures is rarefied and this creates negative pressure. Subsequently, the anterior closure is released and air rushes in to compensate the pressure difference betwee. This creates a strong to very strong click. Clicks can be voiceless, voiced or nasal. There are a wide range of other modifications (accompaniments) such as aspiration, affrication etc.

Symbols for the phonetic transcription of clicks

Click
Voiceless
Click
LABIAL •
NASAL CLICK
• DENTAL
Voiced
• LABIAL
Click
Voiceless
Voiced
• DENTAL
Click
Voiceless
Click
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR
Click
Voiceless
Click
Voiced
• PALATO-ALVEOLAR
Click
Voiced
• ALVEOLAR LATERAL
Click
NASAL CLICK
NASAL CLICK
NASAL CLICK
ALVEOLAR
LATERAL
ALVEOLAR
• VOICED
VOICED 
LABIAL
VOICELESS •
• VOICELESS
NASAL •
DENTAL
PALATO
ALVEOLAR
• NASAL
ALVEOLAR LATERAL •
NASAL CLICK
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The phonetics of clicks

 

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