Agaw languages

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Central Cushitic
EthnicityAgaw people
Ethiopia and central Eritrea
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

The Agaw or Central Cushitic languages are spoken by small groups in Ethiopia and, in one case, Eritrea. They form the main substratum influence on Amharic and other Ethiopian Semitic languages.


The Central Cushitic languages are classified as follows (after Appleyard):

  • Awngi (South Agaw) spoken southwest of Lake Tana, much the largest, with over 350,000 speakers
(Kunfal, spoken west of Lake Tana, is poorly recorded but most likely a dialect of Awngi)[2]
  • Northern Agaw:
  • Bilen–Xamtanga:
(dialects Qwara – nearly extinct, spoken by Beta Israel formerly living in Qwara, now in Israel; Kayla – extinct, formerly spoken by some Beta Israel, transitional between Qimant and Xamtanga)

There is a literature in Agaw but it is widely dispersed: from fascinating mediaeval texts containing passages in the Qimant language, now mostly in Israeli museums, to the modern, flourishing and topical in the Bilen language, with its own newspaper, based in Keren, Eritrea. Much historical material is also available in the Xamtanga language, and there is a deep tradition of folklore in the Awngi language.


Central Cushitic languages are characterised by the presence of /ŋ/, /ɣ/, /z/, and central vowels, while they lack ejectives, implosives, pharyngeals, consonant gemination, vowel length, and the consonant /ɲ/.[3]

See also[edit]


  • Appleyard, David L. (2006) A Comparative Dictionary of the Agaw Languages (Kuschitische Sprachstudien – Cushitic Language Studies Band 24). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Hetzron, Robert (1976) The Agaw Languages. Afroasiatic Linguistics 3,3. p. 31–37
  • Joswig, Andreas and Hussein Mohammed (2011). A Sociolinguistic Survey Report; Revisiting the Southern Agaw Language areas of Ethiopia. SIL International. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2011-047.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Agaw". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Joswig/Mohammed (2011)
  3. ^ Zelealem, [Mollaligne] Leyew. 2020. Central Cushitic. In: Rainer Vossen and Gerrit J. Dimmendaal (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of African Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.