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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ZELEALEM Leyew, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This paper mainly describes the glottonyms (language names) of Ethiopian languages. The findings show that most of the languages in native names appear with affixes. The widely attested affix is -V(f)f(V)/-V(f)f(V) derived from the word af 'mouth' through a grammaticalization process. In Gede’o-ffa (Gedeo language - Cushitic) and Hamar-affo (Hamer language - Omotic), it occurs as a suffix. The Silt'e, Zay and Kistane peoples name their languages as (yä)-Silt'e-af, (yä)-Zay-af and (yä)-kistane af, respectively, with the genitive prefix appearing optionally. There are traces in which the word af was used with language names in old Amharic. In languages such as afaan-Oromo (Oromo language - Cushitic) and ʔafaa-ʔa-χonsoʔ (Konso language - Cushitic), glottonyms are marked through prefixation. Whether or not the glottonym affix is an independent word as in Afar af (Afar language - Cushitic) or an affix as in Afar-af is yet to be determined. The Seezo people call their language seez-waani ‘mouth of Seezo’. In most Ethio-Semitic languages, the adjectivizer suffix -ɨɲɲa is attached to glottonyms. In Amharic, for instance, amar-ɨɲɲa 'Amharic' is a self name and Hadiyy-iɲɲa ‘Hadiyyissa’ (Cushitic), Bench-iɲɲa ‘Benchnon/Bench’ (Omotic) are given names. In all instances, glottonyms are inherently adjectives derived from ethnonyms that are inherently nouns. In few instances, affixes that express the other speech organ: tongue and teeth are recorded. The Nilo-Saharan languages t'wa-gwama ‘tongue of the Gwama people’ and t’a-po ‘tongue of the Opoo people’ are examples. The Northern Mao people (glottonym Màwés-Aas’è lit. ‘teeth of Mao man’) and the Harari people (glottonym: Gē-Sinān “teeth of Harari’) attach in their language names the grammaticalized affixes which originally referred to ‘teeth’. The Burji (Cushitic) and Murle (Nilo-Saharan) ethnic groups name their language in suppelative forms as daʃate and aloŋanch, respectively. The -tstso suffix as in Gamo-tstso, -non suffix as in Bench-non, -te suffix as in Koore-te and -sa suffix as in Oydi-sa are the other glottonym suffixes occurring in other Ethiopian languages. The occurrence of the grammaticalized forms mouth, tongue and teeth in glottonyms could be one of the areal features of Ethiopian languages compared to, for instance, the Niger-Congo noun-class marking languages. The data also prove that the formal and semantic relationships between glottonyms and ethnonyms (ethnic names) are too strong. The relationship with toponyms (place names) is also strong but with endonym (country names) loose. That the same language is designated by different names by missionaries, researchers and neighboring ethnic groups is a point of discussion in this paper. Whereas the most accepted glottonym is the name given by natives themselves, other glottonyms are considered as imposed and sometimes derogatory. The qualitative data and information are collected from my own field-notes and published and unpublished sources.