The meaning and culture of suck-teeth ("le tchip") in West Africa

Suck-teeth is “the gesture of drawing air through the teeth and into the mouth to produce a loud sucking sound” which is used to express “disgust, defiance, disapproval, disappointment, frustration or impatience.”

Those quotes are from Rickford & Rickford (1976) and Alim (2004) respectively (their full references are listed below).

Suck-teeth (which I previously wrote about here) has become increasingly known outside of the Black global diaspora. In urban France, in particular, “le tchip”—as it in known in French—has become so commonplace that public schools banned it as a vulgar “gesture”. This spurred a range of media coverage, but more importantly funny responses such as this that also highlights it as Afro-Caribbean phenomenon.


Little of this popular and academic coverage though has actually ever looked at the who, what, why and how of sucking your teeth or le tchip in Africa itself.

With this in mind, I’m proud to release a Na baro kè video from Bamako, Mali about the meaning, culture and how-to of “suruntu” as suck-teeth is known locally in Bambara/Manding:

A series of conversations in Bambara about how and why to suck your teeth ("suruntu" in Bambara; "tchip" in French) in Bamako, Mali. "Na baro kè" is a project to provide Manding-speakers and -learners with an online subtitled video series of street-side "chats" with everyday people in West Africa.


Alim, H. S. (2004). You Know My Steez: An Ethnographic and Sociolinguistic Study of Styleshifting in a Black American Speech Community. Duke University Press Books.

Rickford, J. R., & Rickford, A. E. (1976). Cut-Eye and Suck-Teeth: African Words and Gestures in New World Guise. The Journal of American Folklore, 89(353), 294–309.