Research Articles

Ju|’hoan and X’ao- ’aen documentation in Namibia: overcoming obstacles to community-based language documentation

  • Megan Biesele
  • Lee Pratchett
  • Taesun Moon


This paper describes the past, present, and future of a remotely-sited, community-based language documentation project near the border between Namibia and Botswana, where the Ju|’hoan (ktz) and X’ao-’aen (aue) languages are spoken. The paper presents an example of reignited linguistic pride within a community which speaks an indigenous language in danger of being supplanted by more dominant ones.

We review the various obstacles encountered and the ways in which the project managed to overcome them, paving the way for future new developments. Some of the issues and solutions are culture-specific, while others are widely applicable to similar projects. In Section 3 we outline some of the technical problems faced and solved in the course of the first decade of the Ju|’hoan Transcription Group (JTG), while in Section 4 other project problems are discussed. These include practical ones such as limitations in the existing Namibian school system, as well as physical problems of the remote location, and social and political problems stemming largely from the attempt to foster a specialized project within a still fiercely egalitarian, recently hunter-gatherer society, which puts high priority on making community-wide consensual decisions. The future of the Ju|’hoan Transcription Project will involve finding solutions to these...

Keywords: language documentation, endangered languages, Ju|’hoan Transcription Group, Ju|’hoan Transcription Project, Ju|’hoan, X’ao-’aen, Namibia, Botswana, community participation

How to Cite:

Biesele, M., Pratchett, L. & Moon, T., (2014) “Ju|’hoan and X’ao- ’aen documentation in Namibia: overcoming obstacles to community-based language documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 11, 72-89. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed