Beja (also called Bedawi, Bedauye, To Bedawie, Ta Bedawie, Hadareb, or by dialect names; Beja: Bidhaawyeet, Tu-Bdhaawi) is an Afroasiatic language spoken in the western coast of the Red Sea by the Beja people. They number around two million people, and inhabit parts of Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea.
Nasals other than /m/ and /n/ are positional variants of /n/. The consonants /χ/ and /ɣ/ only appear in Arabic loanwords in some speakers' speech; in others', they are replaced by /k/ or /h/ and /g/.
Beja has the five vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. /e/ and /o/ only appear long, while /a/, /i/, and /u/ have long and short variants.
Most academic researchers have devised their own independent systems for transcribing Beja. Only two systems have broader usage on-line: One based on Roman script, the other on Arabic. The Arabic system may largely be defunct, but it is still in use on the Beja Language Website.
In the Roman orthography, the vowels are written with the letters corresponding to the IPA symbols (i.e., 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u'). Long vowels are written with doubled signs. As /e/ and /o/ cannot be short vowels, they only appear as 'ee' and 'oo', respectively.
The single 'e' sign, however, does have a use: To distinguish between /ɖ/ and /dh/, 'dh' is used for the former and 'deh' for the latter. Similarly, 'keh' is /kh/, 'teh' is /th/, 'seh' is /sh/. Single 'o' is not used.
In the Arabic orthography, short vowels are written with the same diacritics used in Arabic: fatḥah for /a/ (ﹶ), kasrah for /i/ (ﹺ), ḍammah for /u/ (ُ). Alif (ا) is used as the seat for these diacritics at the beginning of a word. Long /aː/ is written with alif (ا) preceded by fatḥah, or alif maddah (آ) when word-initial. Long /eː/ is written with a modified Kurdish yā' ێ. Long /iː/ is written with yā' ي preceded by kasrah. Long /oː/ us written with a modified Kurdish wāw ۆ. Long /uː/ is written with wāw و preceded by ḍammah.
Pitch accent is not marked in either orthography.
In addition to these two systems and the several academic systems of transcribing Beja texts, it is possible that Beja was at least occasionally written in the Greek alphabet-based Coptic script during the Middle Ages.
Beja nouns and adjectives have two genders: masculine and feminine, two numbers: singular and plural, two cases: nominative and accusative, and may be in definite, indefinite, or construct state. Adjectives that modify nouns must agree in gender, number, and definiteness. Nouns mark gender in several different ways, sometimes through no change at all in the form of the noun itself. A noun may be prefixed by a clitic definite article, or have an indefinite suffix. Definite articles indicate gender, and usually number and case. The indefinite suffix is omitted in the nominative case. Different sources disagree on the number of cases present in Beja: Appleyard cites two, Wedekind, Wedekind, and Musa cite three, Roper and Almkvist cite substantially more.
Beja verbs have two different types, first noted by Almkvist: "strong verbs", which conjugate with both prefixes and suffixes and have several principle parts; and "weak verbs", which conjugate with suffixes only and which have a fixed root.
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Hudson, Richard A. . 1976. "Beja", in: M. Lionel Bender et al. (eds.), The Non-Semitic Languages of Ethiopia (East Lansing: Michigan University, African Studies Centre), pp. 97–131.
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Vycichl, Werner. 1953. "Der bestimmte Artikel in der Bedja-Sprache", in: Muséon 66, pp. 373–379.
Wedekind, Klaus, Charlotte Wedekind, and Abuzeinab Musa. 2007. A Learner's Grammar of Beja. Koeln: Koeppe Verlag.
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Zaborski, Andrzej. 1997. "Problems of the Beja Present Seven Years Ago", in: Lingua Posnaniensis 39, pp. 145–153.