Awngi language

Awngi language

region=Agew Awi Zone Amhara Region

The Awngi language is a Central Cushitic language spoken by the Awi people, living in Central Gojjam in northwestern Ethiopia. The language is classified as Southern Central Cushitic or Southern Agaw in the literature, and as such belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family [ [ Ethnologue report for language code:awn ] ] .

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. The status of Kunfäl, another Southern Agaw language spoken in the area west of Lake Tana, is still not entirely clarified. It is very close to Awngi and could be a dialect of that language [Hussen Mohammed, Ryan Boone & Andreas Joswig (2005): News on Southern Agaw] .


Vowels [Joswig (2006), p. 786]

The central vowel IPA|/ɨ/ is the default epenthetic vowel of the language and almost totally predictable in its occurrence [Joswig (2006), p. 792] .


*IPA|/h/ is found word-initially in loanwords in free variation with Zero.
*IPA|/r/ does not occur word-initially. It is pronounced as a flap IPA| [ɾ] when not geminate.Hetzron (1997), p. 478-479]
*Between vowels, IPA|/b/ is pronounced as a bilabial voiced fricative IPA| [β] .
*IPA|/d/ is pronounced retracted, with slight retroflexion.
*IPA|/ɢ/ is usually pronounced as uvular voiced fricative IPA| [ʁ] .
*Although IPA|/dz/ and IPA|/dʒ/ are phonetically realized as fricatives in many environments, they are very much the voiced counterparts of the voiceless affricates with respect to phonological rules. [see Hetzron (1969), p. 7f]
*The labialization contrast in the dorsal consonants is found only before the vowels IPA|/i, e, a/ and word-finally.


Palmer [Palmer (1959), p. 273] and Hetzron [Hetzron (1969), p. 6] 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 IPA|a. A Falling tone (High-Mid) appears on word-final syllables only.

The Syllable

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: IPA|/ɢ, ɢʷ, ʦ, ʧ, j, w, ʒ/.

Vowel Harmony

Whenever a suffix containing the [+high] vowel IPA|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 IPA|e. This vowel and all preceding instances of IPA|e and IPA|o will take over the feature [+high] , until a different vowel is encountered. Then the vowel harmony is blocked. Hetzron [Hetzron (1997), p. 485] 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 IPA|ŋ and ቕ for the sound IPA|q. The fidel ፅ is used for IPA|ts, the fidel ኽ for the sound IPA|ɢ. Various aspects of the Awngi orthography are yet to be finally decided.


The Noun [Hetzron (1978)]

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 [Hetzron (1978), p.125 ff] 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 [Hetzron (1969)]

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.



* 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 (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.
* 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.
* Ethnologue information:
* World Atlas of Language Structures information:

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