The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project  The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

Agaw Family (Kemant, Khamtanga, Qwarenya)

David Appleyard, SOAS

Project Summary:

Since visiting Ethiopia in 1973-74 for an extended period of research I have been engaged in work on various of the Agaw family of languages, several of which are in an endangered position, and in two instances severely so. The Agaw family (also called Central Cushitic) comprises 4 branches each consisting of dialect clusters of varying complexity. Of these Bilin, spoken in what is now Eritrea, and Awngi, spoken in the Gojjam region of Ethiopia, are currently not in a threatened position and both are now being used as local languages of literacy in their respective regions. The other Agaw languages are in a less happy condition.

During the initial field trip to Ethiopia in 1973-74 I spent a little over a month collecting data on Kemant (or more properly Kemanteney), specifically on the dialect of Kerker, which more recent surveys suggest is now extinct. Current estimates, based on the 1994 census, indicate that only 1,625 of the 172,291 people who describe themselves as Kemant still speak Kemanteney, and none of these.

A small sketch grammar (A Descriptive Outline of Kemant, BSOAS 38 (1975): 316-50) was published describing the data collected in 1973-74.

On a subsequent visit to Ethiopia in 1983, I was able to collect material on another Agaw language, called Khamtanga by the speakers I worked with and belonging to a different branch of the Agaw family. Evidence suggests that this dialect cluster is more complex and a variety of speech varieties, with names such as Khamta, Chamir, and Kaďlińa, have been noted by earlier researchers. Arising from this study, a sketch of Khamtanga appeared in two parts (A Grammatical Sketch of Khamtanga I and II, BSOAS 50 (1985): 241-66, 470-507 resp.)

My third major stint of fieldwork on Agaw was devoted to what has been called Qwarenya, the original language of the Falashas or Ethiopian Jews, and this variety I had the opportunity to study in Israel amongst members of the community who migrated there from Ethiopia in 1991. Qwarenya is extremely endangered, if not actually extinct by now, as only 6 speakers were identified in Israel, none of whom were under 70 years of age, and none of whom used the language in their everyday conversation, but preferred to speak Amharic. Qwarenya is a member of the same dialect cluster as Kemanteney, sharing about 75%-80% of the lexicon.

Ongoing project description:

Results of research on Qwarenya were published in 1998 (Language Death: the Case of Qwarenya (Ethiopia), in Brenzinger, M. (ed.) Endangered Languages in Africa, 142-61. Köln: Köppe Verlag.

Lexical data collected on these and other field-trips, including work on Awngi and Bilin, are currently being used in a Comparative Dictionary of the Agaw languages, which I am at present preparing. It is hoped that this book will be finished by the end of 2004.