Majang language

Ato Majanger-Onk
Native to Ethiopia
Region Godere, Gambela Region
Ethnicity Majang people
Native speakers
33,000 (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mpe
Glottolog maja1242[2]

The Majang language is spoken by the Majangir people of Ethiopia. Although it is a member of the Surmic cluster, this language is the most isolated one in that cluster (Fleming 1983). A language survey has shown that dialect variation from north to south is minor and does not seriously impede communication. The 2007 Ethiopian Census lists 6,433 speakers for Majang (Messengo), but also reports that the ethnic group consists of 32,822 individuals (Messengo and Mejengir).[3] According to the census, almost no speakers can be found in Mezhenger Zone of Gambela Region; a total of eleven speakers are listed for the zone, but almost 10,000 ethnic Mejenger or Messengo people.[4]


Vowels of Majang[5]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Vowel length is distinctive in Majang, so all vowels come in pairs of long and short, such as goopan 'punishment' and gopan 'road'. The vowel inventory is taken out of Joswig (2012) and Getachew (2014, p. 65). Unseth (2007) posed a 9-vowel system with a row of -ATR closed vowels ɪ and ʊ. Moges [6] claims a tenth vowel ɐ, whereas Bender (1983) was only ready to confirm six vowels. All authors agree that there is no ATR vowel harmony in the language.

Consonants of Majang[7]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Tap r
Approximant l j w

Bender[8] also claims that the glottal stop [ʔ] needs to be treated as a phoneme of Majang though Unseth refutes this.[9] Majang has two implosives, bilabial and coronal, which Moges Yigezu has studied acoustically and distributionally.[10]

Prosodic Features

Tones distinguish meaning in Majang,[11] on both the word level and the grammatical level: táŋ (higher tone) 'cow', tàŋ (lower tone) 'abscess'. The tonal inventory consists of two tone levels, with falling and rising contour tones possible at the end of phonological words, plus automatic and non-automatic downstep. [12]


The language has markers to indicate three different past tenses (close, mid, far past) and two future tenses (near and farther).[13]

The language has a wide variety of suffixes, but almost no prefixes. Though its use is limited to a handful of roots, there are a few words that preserve vestiges of the archaic causative prefix i-, a prefix found in other Surmic languages and also Nilotic.[14]

The counting system is a modified vigesimal system, based on 5, 10, and 20. "Twenty" is 'one complete person' (all fingers and toes), so 40 is 'two complete people', 100 is 'five complete people'. However, today, under the influence of schools and increased bilingualism, people generally use the Amharic or Oromo words for 100.

The person and number marking system does not mark the inclusive and exclusive we distinction,[15] a morphological category that is found in nearby and related languages.


Majang has a basic VSO word order,[16] though allowing some flexibility for focus, etc. The language makes extensive use of relative clauses, including for circumstances where English would use adjectives.[17] A recent study[18] states that Majang is characterized by a strong morphological ergative-absolutive system, and a conjoint-disjoint distinction which is based on the presence or absence of an absolutive noun phrase directly following the verb. Many of these distinctions are coded by tonal differences.[19]

Majang, and some related Surmic languages, has been shown to be exceptional to some syntactic typological predictions for languages with Subject–verb–object word order.[20] Majang has postpositions and question words sentence-finally, two properties that had been predicted to not occur in languages with VSO word order.


  1. Majang at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Majang". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 2007 Census countrywide
  4. 2007 Census Gambella Region
  5. Joswig (2012), p. 264
  6. Moges (2007), p.114
  7. Unseth (1991), p. 526
  8. Bender (1983), p. 116
  9. Unseth(1991), p. 533
  10. Moges Yigezu. 2006. The Phonetic Characterization of implosives in Majang, a Northern Surmic language. Proceedings of the XVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, edited by Siegbert Uhlig, pp. 822-830. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.
  11. Bender (1983), p. 117
  12. Joswig 2015b
  13. Bender (1983), p. 132
  14. Unseth (1998)
  15. Bender (1983), p. 128
  16. Getachew 2014, p. 193
  17. Unseth(1989)
  18. Joswig (2015a)
  19. Joswig (2015a)
  20. Jon Arensen, Nicky de Jong, Scott Randal, Peter Unseth. 1997. Interrogatives in Surmic Languages and Greenberg's Universals. Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 7:71-90.


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