≠Akhoe Hai//om is a Central Khoisan language and a member of the Khoekhoegowab dialect continuum. Within southern Africa Khoisan languages are particularly understudied and endangered. ≠Akhoe Hai//om in Namibia is threatened in at least three different ways:
- The overall number of speakers is low.
- The reputation of the language and its speakers is low.
- Standardized neighbouring variants have received much more attention by administrators and linguists.
In this project research focuses on ≠Akhoe Hai//om spoken in the north of the Oshikoto region. Other variants of Hai//om may exist, some already extinct and others already merged into what can be called “mainstream Hai//om”. In terms of lexicon and syntax ≠Akhoe Hai//om preserves old Khoekhoe forms, so that a documentation of these variants helps to rescue forms that are no longer contained in other variants. The project does not treat ≠Akhoe as disconnected or as categorically opposed to Hai//om but rather as the only surviving clear variant in what was probably a larger number of Hai//om variants.
≠Akhoe Hai//om, like the other Khoisan languages, has click sounds that are unfamiliar to speakers of Indo-European languages but also to many speakers of Namibian Bantu languages. In the standard orthography these pervasive click sounds are represented by the signs !, /, //, and ≠.
- / represents the dental click, resembling the fricative sound of slight disapproval common in many languages.
- // represents the lateral click, resembling the sound sometimes likened to the command given to make a horse move and previously often rendered as k by speakers of non-Khoisan languages (as in Haikom instead of Hai//om).
- ! represents the alveolar click, resembling the sound of a bottle being uncorked.
- ≠ represents the palatal click, resembling the sound of clapping.
Each of these basic clicks may be accompanied by one of the following modifications: nasalisation (!n), aspiration (!h), velar fricative (!kh) and glottal stop (unmarked: !). The unmodified, voiceless release of a click is represented as !g, /g, //g, ≠g.