Kora: A Lost Khoisan Language of the early Cape and The Gariep


Menan Du Plessis
University of Stellenbosch


Kora (known as ǃOra in the language itself), was the Khoisan language spoken by the Khoi people – or the Cape herders – of the early Cape and the Gariep. It was believed to have disappeared until only a few years ago, when Mike Besten, an historian based at the University of the Free State, discovered while conducting fieldwork that a few elderly people still retained some fluency in the language.

The author devised and carried out an emergency documentation in 2011, when she and her small team managed to obtain recordings from two of the last living speakers of Kora, Oupa Dawid Cooper and Ouma Jacoba Maclear. It was out of this experience that the idea for this book emerged. The overriding purpose of the work, which is envisaged as an act of cultural restitution, is to retrieve the all but discarded linguistic heritage of the Korana and Griqua people of South Africa – not only for the latter-day descendants of these communities, but for all South Africans.

The two opening chapters describe the linguistic classification of the language, and the sources of our earlier information about it. The third and fourth chapters describe the sounds and structures of the language respectively, and together provide a complete reference grammar of the language. In a time honoured tradition of comprehensive language description, the work also includes texts in the original language, and a dictionary.

The 43 heritage texts consist of historical narratives, accounts of cultural traditions, personal histories, folktales, and the lyrics of songs. The newly edited texts are presented with parallel translations in English, and are extensively annotated. The twoway dictionary has been exhaustively compiled from all available sources. In the online version of the book, approximately one third of the entries are linked to spoken examples provided by the two elderly speakers who worked with the linguists.

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Author Biography

Menan Du Plessis, University of Stellenbosch

Menán du Plessis completed a PhD on the southern African Khoisan languages at the University of Cape Town in 2009. In 2017 she was invited to present a series of workshops on the Khoisan languages at the Summer Institute of the Linguistics Society of America.

She is currently collaborating with a doctoral candidate at Stellenbosch University who is engaged in a documentation of Tcoao, which is an Eastern Kalahari KHOE language of Zimbabwe, and the second most critically endangered KHOE language after Kora.
She was a Visiting Professor at the University of Kentucky in 2015, and is currently an Extraordinary Associate Professor in the Department of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University.

Cover for Kora: A Lost Khoisan Language of the early Cape and The Gariep
December 19, 2018