arrow Home arrow Tanzania Projects arrow Sandawe arrow Sandawe Language Project
Nov 22, 2005

Sandawe Language Project

Written by Elisabeth H

DiscussionA good teacher can even use the sand
to get his point across. (Sandawe, Tanzania)
The Complexities of the Language

  • Sandawe is a click language from the Khoisan language family.
  • The language has fifteen different clicks that have the same status as 'regular' consonants like b, p, t and d.
  • Learning Sandawe is very difficult because it is so different from how Swahili or English sounds and is written. Also, the sentence structure is completely different.
  • Sandawe is difficult to read and even more difficult to write because of the use of clicks in its consonant inventory. Moreover, it has a complex way of changing words into different types of words - verbs into nouns, adjectives into verbs, nouns into adjectives, and so on.
  • The fact that the language differs so much from other languages spoken in the country, makes it very hard for a Sandawe pupil to study in Swahili, or even in English!
  • There is only one other click language in Tanzania and it is not closely related to Sandawe.

Progress of Language Work

Writing down a traditionally oral language has taken a tremendous amount of time and effort. However a solid foundation has been laid largely thanks to linguist Helen E. The team consisting of her, Daniel and Elizabeth H and three Sandawe coworkers who helped at various stages, Nestori, Odilo and Rogart; has been able to complete so far:

  1. Phonology statement
  2. Description of the Grammar
  3. Dialect survey
  4. Sandawe Alphabet and Orthography statement (rules of writing the language)
  5. Database of words for dictionary


So far, the books of Genesis, Ruth, Jonah, Luke and Acts have been translated. The team is currently working on the letter of Paul to the Galatians.

All the translated books have been recorded and therefore been made available not only in written, but also in audio format. The Gospel of Luke has been used to dub the Luke film into the language of the Sandawe. This is the same footage as the more widely known Jesus film, only it covers pretty close to the whole book of Luke.

Literacy classLiteracy class in Magambua. (Sandawe, Tanzania)
Literacy and the use of oral media

The literacy program has remained small. A few reading classes have been conducted with a small number attending. Some ground has been gained with the annual production of a calendar. But the main challenge is that most people don't see a reason as to why they should learn to read or how it could help them.

Because of this, the team has chosen a more oral approach for getting the translated word out into the communities. This includes:

  • Distributing solar powered audio players with the translated Scriptures on them, so that a wider range of listeners can benefit from them.
  • Show the Luke film around the Sandawe area, putting on open air film nights.
  • Continue to teach those that have a desire to learn to read. Hopefully the above will result in more motivation to do so. Our prayer is that this will include as many Christians as possible because the translated Bible portions will benefit them.
Page generated in about 0.38 seconds
Problem with this site? Contact the Webmaster