Zay language

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Native to Ethiopia
Region Lake Zway
Native speakers
4,900  (1994)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 zwa
Glottolog zayy1238[2]

Zay is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Ethiopia. One of the Gurage languages, it is spoken by around 4,880 members of the Zay people on the islands and shores of Lake Zway in the southern part of the country. The language is also known as Zway, Lak'i/Laqi, or Gelilla in the neighboring Oromo language.

General information[edit]

Zay is not a written language; it is only used in oral communication. Given their geographic proximity with a number of influential neighboring languages, speakers of Zay are usually multilingual in Oromo, Amharic, additional Gurage languages, or a combination of the three.[3]

According to Ethnologue, Zay is an endangered language on the verge of extinction. This is due to its speakers migrating to the mainland and adopting the Oromo language, as well as usage of Oromo by youth on the Zay islands.


The word order of Zay is SOV (subject–object–verb). Attributive adjectives precede the nouns they modify. Possessives also precede nouns.[4] Due to the required subject marking on the verb, Zay is a pro-drop language, meaning that pronominal subject phrases do not need to be clearly indicated while speaking. Over the years, Zay has been greatly influenced by contact it has had with the Oromo language. This has created a significant amount of lexical and grammatical changes to Zay.[5]


  1. ^ Zay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Zay". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Meyer, R. (2006). The Zay Language (East-Gurage, Ethiopia). Mainz University.
  4. ^ Hayward, Richard J. (1990). Notes on the Zayse Language. Hayward, Richard J.(ed.). London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
  5. ^ Meyer, R. (2006). The Zay Language (East-Gurage, Ethiopia). Mainz University.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ambaw Demissie (1990), The phonology of Zay: A generative approach. M.A. thesis. Addis Ababa University.
  • Getu Shikur (1999), Morphology of Zay. M.A. thesis. Addis Ababa University.
  • Wolf Leslau (1999), Zway Ethiopic Documents. Aethiopische Forschungen, Band 51. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. ISBN 3-447-04162-5.
  • Ronny Meyer (2005), Das Zay: Deskriptive Grammatik einer Ostguragesprache (Äthiosemitisch). Grammatical Analyses of African Languages, vol. 25. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. ISBN 3-89645-541-9.