Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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ETAFERAHU Hailu, PhD Candidate, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This research investigates language variants spoken by two almost unknown social groups in Gurage, namely the Fuga, a marginalized group of handcrafters, who today mainly produce clay utensils and items made of wood, and the Fedwet, another marginalized and almost vanished group of (almost exclusively female), originally followers of a local religious cult whose former adherents have now become Christians or Muslims. Although both groups are part of Gurage society and speak one of the “regular” Gurage languages, they also acquired group-specific variants, which are not understood by outsiders. In the case of the Fedwet, this is done during an initiation ritual in early puberty. But generally, nothing has so far been known about how these variants are learned, and how they differ from other Gurage languages. The presentation will describe the linguistic structure of the Fedwet and Fuga social variants, i.e. lexicon, phonology, morphology, and semantics, determine the linguistic position of Fedwet and Fuga within the Gurage cluster, i.e. whether these variants are an argot, dialect or language. The research also undertakes a sociolinguistic analysis and investigates how the speakers acquired Fedwet and Fuga, the function of the variants and how they affect the identity of the speakers within a multilingual setting, why Chaha speakers used these social variants instead of the core language. It seeks to explain the historical and current status of these ‘languages’ and also discusses the social, political and cultural position of Gurage women and of the low-caste Fuga group.