South African Journal of African Languages

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Investigating click clusters in isiXhosa syllables

Ntombizodwa Gxowa-Dlayedwa


Non-native Xhosa speakers find it difficult to pronounce the three clicks c, x, and q, occurring in isiXhosa – one of the Nguni languages in South Africa. Each click represents an Onset (O) as the first component of a consonant-vowel (CV) syllable, even if another consonant accompanies the click; in that way it functions as the pre-vocalic syllabic component, with the vowel (V) as the nucleus of the syllable completing each syllable. The present study informs non-native isiXhosa speakers that the pronunciation of any click or click cluster amounts to a single burst, irrespective of the number of consonants visible in the spelling pattern. The study demonstrates the combination of each click with /g/, /k/, /h/, /n/ and /w/ to derive consonant clusters termed ‘onset syllabic components’. The selected data, extracted from running texts, confirms that the clicks fit into a normal speech chain without unduly impeding the reading rate of isiXhosa literature texts. This study advocates that the ability to break up a text or word containing a click or click cluster into identifiable syllables will facilitate reading. Therefore, in pronunciation, we treat any click cluster as a single sound burst, regardless of it being a di-graph, tri-graph, or quadri-graph in practical orthography.
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