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Awngi language

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Title: Awngi language  
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Awngi language

Pronunciation ˈawŋi
Native to Ethiopia
Region Agew Awi Zone Amhara Region
Native speakers
490,000  (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 awn
Glottolog awng1244[2]

The Awngi language, in older publications also called Awiya (an inappropriate ethnonym),[3] is a Central Cushitic language spoken by the Awi people, living in Central Gojjam in northwestern Ethiopia.

Most speakers of the language live in the Agew Awi Zone of the Amhara Region, but there are also communities speaking the language in various areas of Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region. Until recently, Kunfäl, another Southern Agaw language spoken in the area west of Lake Tana, has been suspected to be a separate language. It has now been shown to be linguistically close to Awngi, and it should be classified as a dialect of that language.[4]



Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Open e a o

The central vowel /ɨ/ is the default epenthetic vowel of the language and almost totally predictable in its occurrence.[6] Likewise, /æ/, normally an allophone of /a/, is fossilized in some words and might be justified as a separate phoneme.[7]


Labial Alveolar Palato-velar Uvular
Plain Labialized Plain Labzd
Plosive Voiceless p t k q
Voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ ɢ ɢʷ
Affricate Voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
Voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
Fricative f s ʃ
Post-stopped fricative s͡t ʃ͡t
Nasal m n ŋ ŋʷ
Flap r
Approximant w l j
  • Palatal and velar together in Awngi form only one place of articulation,[9] which is called palato-velar.
  • Post-stopped fricatives are assumed to be single segments in Awngi for phonotactic reasons.[10] Other linguists (e.g. Richard Wiese for German[11]) have called such sounds suffricates.
  • /h/ is found word-initially in loanwords in free variation with Zero.
  • /r/ does not occur word-initially. It is pronounced as a flap [ɾ] when not geminate.[12]
  • Between vowels, /b/ is pronounced as a voiced bilabial fricative [β].[12]
  • /d/ is pronounced retracted, with slight retroflexion.[12]
  • /ɢ/ and /ɢʷ/ are usually pronounced as voiced uvular fricatives [ʁ] and [ʁʷ].
  • Although /d͡z/ and /d͡ʒ/ are phonetically realized as fricatives [z] and [ʒ] in many environments, they are very much the voiced counterparts of the voiceless affricates with respect to phonological rules.[13]
  • The labialization contrast in the palato-velar and uvular consonants is found only before the vowels /i, e, a/ and word-finally.[12]


Palmer[14] and Hetzron[15] both identified three distinctive tone levels in Awngi: high, mid and low. The low tone, however, only appears in word-final position on the vowel a. A falling tone (high-mid) appears on word-final syllables only. Joswig[16] reanalyzes the system as having only two distinctive tone levels, with the low tone being a phonetic variant of the mid tone.

Syllable structure

The Awngi syllable in most cases fits the maximum syllable template CVC (C standing for a consonant, V for a vowel). This means there is only one (if any) consonant each in the syllable onset and the rhyme. Exceptions to this happen at word boundaries, where extrametrical consonants may appear.

Phonological processes


In positions other than word-initial, Awngi contrasts geminate and non-geminate consonants. The contrast between geminate and non-geminate consonants does not show up for the following consonants: /ɢ, ɢʷ, t͡s, t͡ʃ, j, w, ʒ/.

Vowel harmony

Whenever a suffix containing the [+high] vowel i is added to a stem, a productive vowel harmony process is triggered. Hetzron calls this process regressive vowel height assimilation. The vowel harmony only takes place if the underlying vowel of the last stem syllable is e. This vowel and all preceding instances of e and o will take over the feature [+high], until a different vowel is encountered. Then the vowel harmony is blocked. Hetzron[17] provides the following example: /moleqés-á/ ‘nun’ vs. /muliqís-í/ ‘monk’


Awngi is used as Medium of Instruction from Grade 1 to 6 in primary schools of Awi Zone. It is written with an orthography based on the Ethiopian Script. Extra fidels used for Awngi are ጝ for the sound ŋ and ቕ for the sound q. The fidel ፅ is used for ts, the fidel ኽ for the sound ɢ. Various aspects of the Awngi orthography are yet to be finally decided.


The Noun[18]

The noun is marked for number-cum-gender (masculine, feminine or plural) and case. The nominative is unmarked for one class of nouns, or marked by -i for masculine nouns and -a for feminine nouns. Other cases are accusative, dative, genitive, locative, directional, ablative, comitative, comparative, invocative and translative. Hetzron[19] also mentions adverbial as a case of Awngi, but an interpretation as a derivational marker seems to be more appropriate. Both number-cum-gender and case are marked through suffixes to the noun stems.

The Verb[20]

The Awngi verbal morphology has a wealth of inflectional forms. The four main tenses are imperfective past, imperfective non-past, perfective past and perfective non-past. There are various other coordinate and subordinate forms which are all marked through suffixes to the verb stems. The following distinctions are maintained for Person: 1sg, 2sg, 3masc, 3fem, 1pl, 2pl, 3pl. Hetzron demonstrated that the Awngi verbal morphology is most economically described when it is assumed that for every verb there are four distinct stems: The first stem is for 3masc, 2pl, 3pl. The second stem is for 1sg only, the third stem for 2sg and 3fem, and the fourth stem for 1pl only. These four stems need to be noted for every verb in the lexicon and serve as the basis for all other verbal morphology. The stems remain the same throughout all verbal paradigms, and it is possible to predict the surface form of each paradigm member with these stems and the simple tense suffixes.


The main verb of a sentence is always at the end. The basic word order is therefore SOV. Subordination and coordination is achieved exclusively through verbal affixation.


  1. ^ Census 2007, p. 117
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Awngi". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Hetzron (1978), p. 121
  4. ^ Joswig/Mohammed 2011
  5. ^ Joswig (2006), p. 786
  6. ^ Joswig (2006), p. 792
  7. ^ Hetzron, R. (1969) The Verbal System of Southern Agaw. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
  8. ^ Joswig (2010), p. 2
  9. ^ Joswig (2010), p. 9
  10. ^ Joswig (2010), p. 15
  11. ^ Wiese, Richard (2000) The Phonology of German, Oxford University Press, p. 265
  12. ^ a b c d Hetzron (1997), p. 478-479
  13. ^ see Hetzron (1969), p. 7f
  14. ^ Palmer (1959), p. 273
  15. ^ Hetzron (1969), p. 6
  16. ^ Joswig (2009)
  17. ^ Hetzron (1997), p. 485
  18. ^ Hetzron (1978)
  19. ^ Hetzron (1978), p.125 ff
  20. ^ Hetzron (1969)


  • Appleyard, David L. (1996) "'Kaïliña' – A 'New' Agaw Dialect and Its Implications for Agaw Dialectology", in: African Languages and Cultures. Supplement, No. 3, Voice and Power: The Culture of Language in North-East Africa. Essays in Honour of B. W. Andrzejewski, pp. 1–19.
  • Appleyard, David L. (2006) A Comparative Dictionary of the Agaw Languages (Kuschitische Sprachstudien – Cushitic Language Studies Band 24). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Hetzron, Robert. (1969) The Verbal System of Southern Agaw. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Hetzron, Robert (1976) "The Agaw Languages", in: Afroasiatic Linguistics 3/3.
  • Hetzron, Robert (1978) "The Nominal System of Awngi (Southern Agaw)", in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 41, pt. 1. pp. 121–141. SOAS. London.
  • Hetzron, Robert (1995) "Genitival agreement in Awngi: Variation on an Afroasiatic theme", in Plank, F (ed.) Double case. pp. 325-335. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hetzron, Robert (1997) "Awngi [Agaw] Phonology", in: Phonologies of Asia and Africa, Volume 1. Ed. Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. pp. 477–491.
  • Joswig, Andreas (2006) "The Status of the High Central Vowel in Awngi", in: Uhlig, Siegbert (ed.), Proceedings of the XVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Hamburg July 2003 (Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden), p. 286-793.
  • Joswig, Andreas (2009). Svein Ege, Harald Aspen, Birhanu Teferra, Shiferaw Bekele (eds.), ed. "Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies" 4. Trondheim: NTNU. pp. 1417–1425. 
  • Joswig, Andreas (2010). The Phonology of Awngi. SIL Electronic Working Papers. SIL International. 
  • Joswig, Andreas and Hussein Mohammed (2011). A Sociolinguistic Survey Report; Revisiting the Southern Agaw Language areas of Ethiopia. SIL International. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2011-047.
  • Palmer, Frank R. (1959) "The Verb Classes of Agaw (Awiya)" Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 7,2. p. 270-97. Berlin.
  • Tubiana, J. (1957) "Note sur la distribution géographique des dialectes agaw", in: Cahiers de l'Afrique et de l'Asie 5, pp. 297–306.
  • World Atlas of Language Structures information:
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