75 Ethiopian Languages:

19 Cushitic, 20 Nilosaharan, 23 Omotic, 12 Semitic, and 1 Unclassified

 

Grover Hudson

Michigan State University

 

The present version is the revision of 29 December 2006.

 

      Some named varieties of Ethiopian speech are little studied, and for many we lack confident information about their intelligibility with other varieties. While numerous controversies persist (for example concerning Shabo, here included in Nilo-Saharan), based upon a thorough survey of the literature, Ethiopian languages may be tentatively numbered 75, as listed in Table 1, below. The list also includes the groupings or classification of the languages, their named dialects, and alternative names of languages and dialects.

      Names of the 75 languages appear in column 3 of Table 1. Multiple names in a row of this column are names of dialects (mutually intelligible varieties) of the language. Parenthesized single words are alternative names; parenthesized lists are dialects of the language.

      Included in the list are two extinct Semitic languages, Ge'ez and Gafat, and two extinct Cushitic Agaw varieties, Quara, and Kayla. Ge'ez is no longer a mother tongue but continues in use as the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Not included in the list are three varieties (whether dialect or language, we do not know) for which adequate information is unavailable: Wayt'o, perhaps a dialect of South Agaw, Werji, spoken in territory now of the Silt'e-group; and the reported 'Rer Baare', perhaps Nilosaharan.

      Primary sources for the information of Table 1, though not followed in every detail, particularly concerning nomenclature, are for Cushitic Tosco 2000, for Nilosaharan Bender 1996, for Omotic Bender 2000, for Semitic Hudson 2000, and for Ongota Fleming 2002 and Savˆ and Tosco 2003.

      Comments are invited on any aspect of the list of Table 1, whether concerning the appropriateness of inclusion of these 75 or other varieties, the preferred and alternative names of languages and dialects, and the classification scheme of the first column. Gratefully acknowledged are previously received comments from Michael and Colleen Ahland, Lionel Bender, Roger Blench, Joachim Crass, Ronny Meyer, and Pete Unseth.

      Table 2 is different: the list of 77 Ethiopian speech varieties, termed 'mother tongues', of the 1994 Ethiopian national census (Office of Population and Housing Census 1998), listed in order of decreasing number of mother-tongue speakers. Unlike those of Table 1, some of the speech varieties of Table 2 are known to be mutually intelligible with others, so properly are dialects of a single language. At least one of the 77, 'Gurage', is a group of at least 5 languages, and some languages of Table 1 are absent in Table 2 (with its category of 'other languages'). Thus Table 1 is thought to be a more authoritative listing of Ethiopian languages.

      For more information, see Hudson 2003 and 2004.

 

 

 

References

 

Bender, Lionel M. 1996. The Nilo-Saharan Languages: a Comparative Essay. Munich: Lincom Europa.

Bender, Lionel M. 2000. Comparative Morphology of the Omotic Languages. Munich: Lincom Europa.

Fleming, Harold. 2002a. Ongota lexicon: English-Ongota. Mother Tongue (Journal of the Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory) 7.39-63.

Fleming, Harold. 2002b. Shabo: a new African phylum or a special relic of Old Nilo-Saharan? Mother Tongue (Journal of the Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory) 7.1-37.

Hudson, Grover. 2000. Ethiopian Semitic overview. Journal of Ethiopian Studies 33.2:75-86.

Hudson, Grover. 2003. Linguistic analysis of the 1994 Ethiopian census. Northeast African Studies 6.3 (1999): 89-107.

Hudson, Grover. 2004. Languages of Ethiopia and Languages of the 1994 Ethiopian Census, Aethiopica 7.160-172.

Office of Population and Housing Census Commission. 1998. 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, Results at Country Level, Volume I, Statistical Report. Addis Ababa: Central Statistical Office.

Tosco, Mauro. 2000. Cushitic overview. Journal of Ethiopian Studies 33.87-121.

Sava, Graziano and Mauro Tosco. 2003. The classification of Ongota, Afrasian: Selected Comparative-Historical Linguisics Studies in Memory of Igor M. Diakonoff, M. Lionel Bender, David Appleyard, and Gabor Takacs, eds., 307-316. Munich: Lincom Europa.

 

 

Table 1. 75 Ethiopian Languages

 

Group no.

Group name

Language and/or dialects of the language

1

Cushitic (19 languages)

1.1

Central (Agaw)

 

1.1.1

North

 

1.1.1.1

East1

Xamtanga, Xamir,  Kayla

1.1.1.2

West

Kemant,  Quara (Falasha)

1.1.2

South

Awngi, Kunfal

1.2

East

 

1.2.1

Highland

Burji

 

 

Gedeo

 

 

Hadiyya, Libido (Maraqo)

 

 

Kambaata, Alaba, KÕabeena, TÕimbaaro

 

 

Sidaama

1.2.2

Lowland

 

1.2.2.1

North (Saho-Afar)

Saho (mainly in Eritrea), Afar

1.2.2.2

South

 

1.2.2.2.1

Oromo-Konso

 

1.2.2.2.1.1

Oromo

Oromo

1.2.2.2.1.2

Konso group

Konso

 

 

Dirayta (Gidole)

 

 

Mossiya (Bussa)

1.2.2.2.2

Omo-Tana

 

1.2.2.2.2.1

North

Bayso

1.2.2.2.2.2

East

Somali

1.2.2.2.2.3

West

Arbore

 

 

Daasanach (Geleb)

1.2.2.3

Dullay

Harso-Dobase (Werize), Tsamaakko (Tsamay)

 

 

Gawwada-Gollango

2.

Nilosaharan (20 languages)

2.1

Berta

Berta (Gamili, Gebato, Undu, Mayu, Fadashi)

2.2

Kunama

Kunama

2.3

Ilit

Ilit

2.4

Koman

Opo (Shita)

 

 

Komo

 

 

Kwama

 

 

Twampa (Uduk)

2.5

Gumuz

Gumuz

2.6

East Sudanic

 

2.6.1

Surmic

Majang (Mesengo)

 

 

Murle

 

 

Baale (Zilmamu, Olam, Suri)

 

 

Mursi, Tirma, Tid, Chai

 

 

Me'en (Bodi, Tishena)

 

 

Kwegu (Guagu), Muguji

2.6.2

Nera

Nera

2.6.3

Nilotic

Anywa

 

 

Mebaan (only in Sudan?)

 

 

Naadh (Nuer)

 

 

Nyangatom (Turkana)

2.7

Shabo

Shabo (Mikeyir)

3

Omotic (23 languages)

 

3.1

Mao

Hozo, Sezo

 

 

Bambeshi, Diddesa

 

 

Ganza (only in Sudan?)

3.2

Ari-Dizi

 

3.2.1

Ari group

Ari (Bako)

 

 

Hamar, Banna, Kara

 

 

Dime

3.2.2

Dizi group

Dizi (Maji)

 

 

Sheko

 

 

Nayi (Nao)

3.3

Ta/ne languages

 

3.3.1

Kefa (Gonga) group

Kefa, Mocha (Shekka, Shekaco)

 

 

Bworo (Shinasha)

 

 

Anfillo (Mao)

3.3.2

Yem

Yem(sa) (Janjero)

3.3.3

BencÕ group

BencÕ, She, Mer

3.3.4

CÕara-Ometo

 

3.3.4.1

CÕara

CÕara (Chara)

3.3.4.2

North Ometo

Welaytta, Dawro (Kullo, Konta), Dorze, Gamo, Gofa

 

 

Malo (Melo), Zala

 

 

Oyda

 

 

Basketo (Mesketo)

 

 

Maale

3.3.4.3

South Ometo

Kore (Koyra)

 

 

Zayse, Zergulla

 

 

Ganjule, Gatsame (Kachama), Gidicho (Harro)

4

Ethiopian Semitic (of South Semitic) (12 languages)

4.1

North2

 GeÔez

 

 

Tigrinya

4.2

South

 

4.2.1

Southwest

 

4.2.1.1

Gafat

 Gafat

4.2.1.2

Soddo group

Soddo (Kistane), Dobbi (Gogot), Galila

4.2.1.3

Mesqan-ÔGurageÕ

 

4.2.1.3.1

Mesqan

Mesqan, Urib?

4.2.1.3.2

Gurage

 

4.2.1.3.2.1

Chaha group

Chaha, Muher, Ezha, Gumer, Gura

4.2.1.3.2.2

Inor group

Inor (Ennemor), Enner, Endegegn, Gyeto,  Mesmes

4.2.2

Southeast

 

4.2.2.1

Amharic-Argobba

Amharic

 

 

Argobba

4.2.2.2

Harari-SiltÕe-Zay

 

4.2.2.2.1

Harari

Harari

4.2.2.2.2

SiltÕe-Zay

 

4.2.2.2.2.1

SiltÕe group

SiltÕe, Ulbareg, Enneqor, Walane

4.2.2.2.2.2

Zay

Zay

5

Unclassified (1 language)

Ongota (Birale)

 

Notes

1. The North Agaw language Bilin is spoken in Eritrea.

2. Tigre and closely related Dahalik, spoken in Eritrea, are also part of the group with Ethiopian Semitic languages.

3. The classification of Shabo is controversial; see Fleming 2002b.

 


Table 2. Ethiopian 1994 Census Speech Varieties, Number of ÔMother-tongueÕ Speakers and Ethnic Group Members, ordered by number of speakers

 

C=Cushitic, N=Nilosaharan, O=Omotic, and S=Semitic

Speech variety

Mother-tongue speakers

Ethnic group members

 

Speech variety

Mother-tongue speakers

Ethnic

group members

Amara S

17,372,913

16,010,894

 

Dasenech C

32,064

32,014

Oromo C

16,777,975

17,088,136

 

Sheko O

24,106

23,772

Tigraway S

3,224,875

3,284,443

 

Saho C

22,759

23,258

Somali C

3,187,053

3,139,421

 

Harari S

21,283

22,884

Gurage S

1,881,574

2,290,332

 

Dizi O

21,075

21,888

Sidama C

1,876,329

1,842,444

 

Dorze O

20,782

28,969

Welayta O

1,231,674

1,268,445

 

Mello O

20,151

20,181

Afar C

965,462

972,766

 

Shinasha O

19,734

32,660

Hadiyya C

923,957

927,747

 

Suri N

19,622

19,616

Gamo O

690,069

719,862

 

Oyda O

16,597

14,059

Gedeo C

637,082

639,879

 

Mesengo N

15,152

15,329

Kafa O

569,626

599,146

 

Nyangatom N

14,177

14,201

Kambaata C

487,654

499,631

 

Mao O

13,657

16,226

Awngi C

356,980

397,494

 

She O

13,116

13,164

Kulo O

313,228

331,477

 

Argobba S

10,860

62,912

Goffa O

233,340

241,818

 

Zayse O

10,172

10,842

Bench O

173,586

173,149

 

Fadashi N

8,715

7,323

Ari O

158,857

155,065

 

Tsamay C

8,621

9,699

Konso C

149,508

153,407

 

Zergula O

7,625

390

Kamir C

143,369

158,225

 

Chara O

6,932

6,976

Alaba C

126,257

125,894

 

Mossiya C

6,624

9,205

Gumuz N

120,424

121,481

 

Dime O

6,501

6,189

Berta N

116,084

118,670

 

Bodi N

4,570

4,685

Koyra O

103,879

107,586

 

Arbore C

4,441

6,622

Timbaro C

82,803

86,499

 

Nao O

3,656

4,004

Yemsa O

81,614

165,770

 

Mursi N

3,278

3,254

Nuer N

64,907

64,527

 

Kachama O

2,682

2,735

Basketo O

57,805

51,089

 

Kunama N

1,883

2,003

Mocha O

54,894

53,846

 

Kemant C

1,650

172,324

Male O

53,779

46,458

 

Koma N

1,435

1,522

MeÕen N

52,015

52,808

 

Ganjule O

1,390

1,142

Gidole C

50,328

54,339

 

Mer O

989

1,195

Konta O

48,987

49,625

 

Shita N

301

290

Anywak N

45,646

45,656

 

Gamili N

144

184

Hamer O

42,838

42,448

 

Guagu N

103

165

Maraqo C

36,612

38,093

 

Kwama N

99

140

Qabena C

35,783

35,065

 

Gebato N

78

67

Burji C

35,731

46,552

 

Mabaan N

25

21

Gawada C

32,698

33,945

 

Other langs

139,047

110,555