|Region||Southern Omo Zone, Southern Region|
Ongota (also known as Birale, Birayle) is a moribund language of southwest Ethiopia. UNESCO reported in 2012 that out of a total ethnic population of 115, only 12 elderly native speakers remain, the rest of their small village on the west bank of the Weito River, having adopted the Tsamai language instead. The default word order is subject–object–verb. It is probably Afroasiatic, but has not been definitively classified.
Brief History of the People
Oral history of the Ongota tells that they originated from a number of different populations from Dikinte, Maale and Arbore among others. During a stay in Maale territory, which today lies at their north, the collection of clans were chased south due to their hunting of Maale livestock. They followed the banks of the Weito River until they reached the Arbore, where they were turned away back north and settled where they are today. This account differs from that of the Maale, who claim that the Ongota were originally a part of the Maale who migrated and did not return.
Ongota has features of both Afroasiatic and Nilo-Saharan languages that confuse its classification, and linguists and anthropologists have been unable to clearly trace its linguistic roots so far. Savà and Tosco (2007), says that Ongota's morphology is Ts'amakko or unique. Ongota's phonology is Ts'amakko and ~50% of the lexicon can be connected to Ts'amakko roots. They also report that Aklilu Yilma of Addis Ababa University considers Ongota to be a pidginised creole. They say, "Its conclusion is strengthened by a local legend stating that Ongota originated from a multiethnic melting pot." They further report that Christopher Ehret considers Ongota to be South Omotic, Marvin Lionel Bender, Cushitic, Vaclav Blaz̆ek (1991, 2001, and forth.), Nilo-Saharan, and Cushiticist Maarten Mous (2003), a language isolate. Savà and Tosco (2003, 2007), themselves, believe it to be an East Cushitic language with a Nilo-Saharan substratum—that is, that Ongota speakers shifted to East Cushitic from an earlier Nilo-Saharan language, traces of which still remain. Fleming (2006) considers it to be an independent branch of Afroasiatic. Bonny Sands (2009) believes Savà and Tosco's proposal to be the most convincing proposal.
Reasons for Decline
The main mechanism behind the decline of Ongota is marriage with other communities. In a brief expedition in the early 1990s, a number of researchers made the observation that many Ongota men married Tsamakko women. The child would grow up speaking only the mother's language, but not the father's. (Mikesh, P. et al., 1992–1993) This trend has continued through the recent years.
- Nomination File No. 00493 For Inscription on The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need Of Urgent Safeguarding In 2012.
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ongota". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Sava, Graziano, & Thubauville, Sophia, 2010. “The Ongota : a branch of the Maale? ; ethnographic, historic and linguistic traces of contact of the Ongota people.” In "To live with others: essays on cultural neighborhood in southern Ethiopia", edited by E. Gabbert, & S. Thubauville, (pp. 213‐235). Koln: Koppe.
Bibliography and Additional Reading
- Fleming, Harold, 2002. "Ongota Lexicon: English-Ongota". Mother Tongue, VII, pp. 39–65.
- Fleming, Harold, 2006. Ongota: A Decisive Language in African Prehistory. – Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz. ISBN 3-447-05124-8
- Mikesh, P. et al., 1992–1993. "Ongota or Birale: a moribund language of Gemu-Gofa (Ethiopia)". Journal of Afroasiatic Languages, 3,3:181–225.
- Militarev, Alexander, 2005. “Towards the genetic affiliation of Ongota, a nearly-‐extinct language of Ethiopia.” In ""Memoriae Igor M. Diakonoff"", by Leonin E. Kogan, (pp. 567-‐607). Wiona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
- Sands, Bonny (2009). "Africa’s Linguistic Diversity". Language and Linguistics Compass 3/2 (2009): 559–580, 10.1111/j.1749-818x.2008.00124.x
- Savà, Graziano, 2003. “Ongota (Birale), a Moribund Language of Southwest Ethiopia.” In ""Language Death and Language Maintenance: Theoretical, Practical and Descriptive Approaches"" by M. Janse, S. Tol, & V. Hendriks. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
- Savà, Graziano and Mauro Tosco 2000. A sketch of Ongota, a dying language of southwest Ethiopia. Studies in African Linguistics 29.2.59–136.
- Savà, Graziano and Mauro Tosco 2003. "The classification of Ongota". In Bender et al. eds, Selected comparative-historical Afrasian linguistic studies. LINCOM Europa.
- Savà, Graziano and Mauro Tosco 2007. Review article: HAROLD C. FLEMING, Ongota: a Decisive Language in African Prehistory. Aethiopica 10.
- Savà, Graziano, & Thubauville, Sophia, 2010. “The Ongota : a branch of the Maale? ; ethnographic, historic and linguistic traces of contact of the Ongota people.” In "To live with others: essays on cultural neighborhood in southern Ethiopia", edited by E. Gabbert, & S. Thubauville, (pp. 213‐235). Koln: Koppe.
- Ongota entry in the Endangered Languages Project
- A short preview of a film with spoken Ongota by Robert Weijs
- A socio-linguistic survey that includes a wordlist of Ongota
- Another Ongota worldist by the Rosetta Project
- A news article metaphorically extends language death from Ongota to radio[dead link] Archived February 2, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- [http://www.maurotosco.net/maurotosco/Publications_files/TOSCO_Ongota%20lg_EncETh.pdf Mauro Tosco's Ongota entry in the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica
- Mauro Tosco presenting paper on Ongota as an isolate
- Documentation of Ongota in Endangered Languages Archive (deposited by Graziano Savà)