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|Xam is a southern Khoisan language which was spoken in parts of the southwest region of South Africa until its extinction some time in the early part of the 20th century. This language was studied by the German philologist Wilhelm H.I. Bleek from 1870 until his death in 1875. Working with Dr. Bleek and continuing this work after his death were his sister-in-law Lucy C. Lloyd and daughter Dorothea Bleek. This grammatical sketch has thus been compiled from the following sources:

The Lloyd-Bleek collection, an archive of |Xam documents and drawings, has recently been made available online at

The orthography presented here does not do justice to the level of detail in the transcriptions of the above-mentioned researchers. Specifically, I have omitted all tone-markings (high, mid, low, rising, falling) and other diacritical marks. A further simplification is in the identification of vowels: D.F. Bleek uses a modified version of the IPA of her time, which I am forced to simplify to a,e,i,o,u due to font limitations. I have also simplified the engma symbol to "n".

  1. Word Order: S--V--IO--DO--Adjunct
    1. Transitive clauses are SVO (B171)
      hin –ne hi toi en-en
      they part eat ostrich meat

      `They eat the ostrich meat.' (BL137)

    2. IO precedes DO (B171)
      kukumi he: „kabogu: sin =kaka hu hi
      stories which the Jantjes have tell you them

      `stories which the Jantjes have told you' (B162)

    3. Locatives and other adjuncts follow objects. (B171)

      han –ne –kammin-ti-„a toi au „nain
      he IND carry-?-away ostrich PREP house

      `he carries away the ostrich to the house' (BL136)

  1. NP Word Order: (apparently) possessor–Noun number/adjective

  1. Adjectives follow the noun, often as a relative clause. (B95)

    –xabba e tta-/i „go„go !keri
    soup which hot(lit. feel-fire) whirlwind great

    `hot soup' (BL122) `great whirlwind' (B95)

    Note: It appears that there are few or no examples of attributive adjectives. The apparent examples given by D. Bleek functions either diminutives/augmentatives (little/great) or are themselves actually nouns (men/women=male/female).
  2. Possessor precedes possessee. (B88)

    =xoa-ka !kauken
    elephant-POSS children

    `elephant's children' (B163)

  3. Numbers (one, two, three only) follow noun, with optional relative marker. (B96)
    !kui (a:) !kwai
    man who one

    `one man' (B96)

  4. Demonstrative adjectives ‘this/these’(ha/hi) precede noun. The same words are used for the personal pronouns ‘he/they’. (B94)





    `this child' (B167)

    Note: perhaps this is an appositive, rather than adjectival construction.

  5. Demonstrative adjectives `that/those' are expressed by a relative pronoun plus the verb `to be' (a). (B94)

    !kwi a: a
    man who is

    `that man' (B94)

  1. Two noun "classes" (distinguished by different pronouns, roughly equivalent to English `he/she/it' and `they'). No clear semantic correlates. (B87)
Class 1: only singular nouns.
  Ex: !'wa: (hartebeest), !kui (man)
Class 2: all plurals, and some singular nouns
  Ex: „gai (shoulderblade), hoho (eggshells) (B87)
Ex: "son": @pwan @psan @pwan-ka @pwan-we
    (simple) (emphatic) (possessive) (vocative)
  "sons": @pwonde @pwondeken @pwondeka @pwonde-we (B93)
W.H.I. Bleek, in his partial parse of the story " The Resurrection of Ostrich", identifies five Cases: Accusative, Nominative, Genitive, Vocative, Alterative. (BL145)
Ex: "man": !kui !kuiten !kuita !kuwe !kuko
    (Acc "(& Nom)") (Nom) (Gen) (Voc) (Alt)
    !(k)e or !ei !(k)eten or !eiten !(k)eta !(k)auwe !(k)ekuiten

In fact, WB's Accustive seems to correspond to DB's Simple, encompassing normal uses of Nominative and Accusative. "Emphatic" is nominative emphatic only, corresponding to WB's Nominative.

Ex: tall (singular): !xo:wa tall (plural): !xo!xo:ka

"Moods and tenses are formed by placing one or more verbal particles or auxiliaries before the verb...Occasionally also the verb takes an ending, generally when it can be translated as a participle." (B161)

  1. Example: `sin' (past/perfect/pluperfect/subjunctive perfect) (B162)

    !k?wa:gen sin ka n –kum u !hau au ha ts'axau
    hartebeest did want I take away thong PREP his eye

    `The hartebeest wanted me to take the thong away from his eye.'

  2. Example: `kan' (continuous action) (B166)

    !khwa kan k''wa:
    child CONT cry

    `child is crying'

  3. Example: -i is a verbal ending expressing duration of action. (B168)







    dreaming-(pres. participle)


    `the Mantis was dreaming about the child.'

  4. Negation: 'not' is expressed by )au or )auki before the main verb.

    n )auki @puoin
    I not sleep

    `I do not sleep.' (BL250)

u sse )auki a „kha sse hha n-ka @khwa
you SUBJ not let lion SUBJ eat I-POSS child
Note: the symbol ) represents "a strong croaking sound in the throat"(BL)...probably pharyngealization.

"Two or three verbs can be strung together in a sentence, sometimes joined by one of the particles ki, ko, kau, ti, to, tau, si or by –ki `to take', sometimes without any connection." (B161)

–ha –ki sa wai
husband take come springbok

`the husband brings the springbok.' (B161)

ha se „a di –ki sin ha
he will go make take sit it

`He will go to sit preparing it.' (B161)

"The endings wa, ja, ka, ta seem to indicate the imperative, an applied form, a participle, or the passive." (B169)
  1. Benefactive use of -ka

    „koin se !kara-ka hi !k'au
    sun should warm-ka them earth

    `The sun should warm for them the earth.' (B169)

  2. Passive use of -ka
    !k'au –ne =ka=ka-ka  
    ground CONT light-light-PASS  

    `The ground is made light (lit up).' (B170)

  3. Causatives

    This last example also shows a typical causative use of verbal reduplication.

  1. Relativized subjects do not require (permit?) a resumptive pronoun.

    !kui a: –kha wai
    man who kills springbok

    `man who kills springbok' (B94)

  2. Other relativized arguments do require a resumptive pronoun.

    „goro e: !kwa:gen !hi so hi
    breastbone which bones upon sit it

    `the breastbone on which the bones are.' (B94)

  1. "The interrogative pronouns who? What? are expressed by the words for person and thing with the interrogative ending -de, followed by one of the interrogative verbal particles xa, ba, –nu" (B95)
tsa-de ba a
thing-what Q be

`What is it?' (B95)

a ba –ku –uru:wa ha !khwa
you Q TENSE forgotten he/she child

`Hast thou forgotten this child?'