A language of Ethiopia

Alternate Names
B’ega, Bega-Tse, Debatsa, Debuga, Dehenda, Gombo, Gumis, Gumz, Kadallu, Mendeya, Sa-B’aga, Sigumza, “Shankillinya” (pej.)

165,380 in Ethiopia, all users. L1 users: 161,000 in Ethiopia (2007 census). L2 users: 4,380. 88,200 monolinguals. Ethnic population: 164,000 (2007 census). Total users in all countries: 205,380 (as L1: 201,000; as L2: 4,380).


Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Oromia regions: Metemma area on Sudan border south through Gonder and Metekel zones; along Blue Nile south into Wellaga and Didessa valley up to Neqemt-Gimbi road; southwest of Addis Ababa, Welqite area villages.

Language Status

4 (Educational).


Guba, Wenbera, Sirba, Agalo, Yaso, Mandura, Dibate, Metemma. Noticeable dialect differences, and not all dialects are inherently intelligible. Mandura, Dibate, and Metemma form a distinct dialect subgroup.


AVO and SV but word order is variable depending on discourse context; tonal, 2 tones plus downstep; large consonant inventory (38 for Southern Gumuz and 39 for Northern Gumuz); verbs are highly polysynthetic:verb affixes show person (number of subject, first plural inclusive and exclusive, A versus S bound pronominals, Northern Gumuz has O bound pronominals in addition to A and S), direction, mood, middle voice, aspect,uncertainty, pluractional, reciprocal, tense, incorporated prepositions (dative, comitative and locative); verbs are divided into two templates: future and nonfuture; external possession constructions via noun incorporation; simple verb roots plus verbal classifiers form complex verbal stems; nouns are mostly transnumeral or general and not typically marked for number; N-N collocations exhibit construct form cf. (Creissels 2009); inherently possessed nouns; relator nouns; marked nominative alignment with a split system.

Language Use

Used by all. Also use Amharic [amh], limited use and comprehension. Also use Eastern Oromo [hae], with limited comprehension. Also use Sudanese Spoken Arabic [apd], especially Muslims near the border of Sudan. Used as L2 by Daatsʼíin [dtn].

Language Development

Literacy rate in L2: 6%. One challenge to language development, Mother Tongue education and literacy has been the dialect variation not only regionally, but also based on family clans. Despite this challenge, local efforts are being made toward the standardization of formal rules that can be applied across the language area (2017 T. Williamson). Taught in primary schools in grades 1–4 as the medium of instruction. Taught in secondary schools in grades 5–9 as subject. Grade 10 mother tongue subject curriculum being developed in 2018. Grammar. NT: 2003.


Ethiopic script [Ethi], no longer in use. Latin script [Latn], used since 2007, official usage.

Other Comments

Despite a shift toward urbanization, it is still a primary marker of identity (2017 T. Williamson). Traditional religion.

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