Gumuz languages

Native to Ethiopia, Sudan
Region Benishangul-Gumuz Region Amhara Region Blue Nile Province
Ethnicity Gumuz
Native speakers
180,000 in Ethiopia (2007 census)[1]
40,000 in Sudan (no date)[2]
Ethiopic, Latin (in Ethiopia)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 guk
Glottolog gumu1244[3]

Gumuz (also spelled Gumaz) is a dialect cluster spoken along the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. It has been tentatively classified within the Nilo-Saharan family. Most Ethiopian speakers live in Kamashi Zone and Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, although a group of 1,000 reportedly live outside the town of Welkite (Unseth 1989). The Sudanese speakers live in the area east of Er Roseires, around Famaka and Fazoglo on the Blue Nile, extending north along the border.[2]

An early record of this language is a wordlist from the Mount Guba area compiled in February 1883 by Juan Maria Schuver.[4]


Varieties are not all mutually intelligible. By that standard, there are two or three Gumuz languages. Grammatical forms are distinct between northern and southern Gumuz.[5]

Daats'iin, discovered in 2013, is clearly a distinct language, though closest to southern Gumuz.


Gumuz has both ejective consonants and implosives. The implosive quality is being lost at the velar point of articulation in some dialects (Unseth 1989). There is a series of palatal consonants, including both ejective and implosive. In some dialects, e.g. Sirba, there is a labialized palatalized bilabial stop, as in the word for 'rat' [bʲʷa] (Unseth 1989).

Tones are high and low, with downstep.[6]


Word order is AVO, with marked nominative case, though there is AOV order in the north, probably from Amharic influence .

In intransitive clauses, subjects in S–V order are unmarked, whereas those in V–S order are marked for nominative case.[6]


Dimmendaal (2008) notes that mounting grammatical evidence has made the Nilo-Saharan proposal as a whole more sound since Greenberg proposed it in 1963, but that such evidence has not been forthcoming for Songhay, Koman, and Gumuz: "very few of the more widespread nominal and verbal morphological markers of Nilo-Saharan are attested in the Coman languages plus Gumuz ... Their genetic status remains debatable, mainly due to lack of more extensive data." (2008:843) And later, "In summarizing the current state of knowledge, ... the following language families or phyla can be identified — ... Mande, Songhai, Ubangian, Kadu, and the Coman languages plus Gumuz." (2008:844)

This "Coman plus Gumuz" is what Greenberg (1963) had subsumed under Koman and what Bender (1989) had called Komuz, a broader family consisting of Gumuz and the Koman languages. However, Bender (2000) separated Gumuz as at least a distinct branch of Nilo-Saharan, and suggested that it might even be a language isolate. Dimmendaal (2000), who tentatively included Koman within Nilo-Saharan, excluded Gumuz as an isolate, as it did not share the tripartite singulative–collective–plurative number system characteristic of the rest of the Nilo-Saharan language families. Ahland (2010, 2012), however, reports that with better attestation, Gumuz does indeed appear to be Nilo-Saharan, and perhaps closest to Koman. It has grammatical forms that resemble what might be expected from an ancestral proto-Nilo-Saharan language. Gumuz may thus help elucidate the family, which is extremely diverse and has been difficult to substantiate.


  1. Ethiopia 2007 Census
  2. 1 2 Gumuz languages at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Gumuz". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Wendy James, et al., Juan Maria Schuver's Travels in North East Africa, 1880-1883 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1996), pp. 340-43
  5. Ahland, Colleen Anne. 2004. "Linguistic variation within Gumuz: a study of the relationship between historical change and intelligibility." M.A. thesis. University of Texas at Arlington.
  6. 1 2 Colleen Ahland, 2012. "A Grammar of Northern and Southern Gumuz", Doctoral Dissertation, University of Oregon.


Further reading

External links

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