Bʼaga languages

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border of Ethiopia and Sudan
Linguistic classificationNilo-Saharan?

The Bʼaga languages,[1] also known as Gumuz,[2] form small language family spoken along the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. They have been tentatively classified as closest to the Koman languages within the Nilo-Saharan language family.[3][4]


There are four to five Bʼaga languages. Grammatical forms are distinct between Northern Gumuz and Southern Gumuz.[5] Yaso is at least a divergent dialect, perhaps distinct enough to count as a separate language. Daatsʼiin, discovered in 2013, is closest to Southern Gumuz, while Kadallu in Sudan is attested by only two short word lists.

A comparative word list of Daatsʼiin, Northern Gumuz, and Southern Gumuz is available in Ahland & Kelly (2014).[6]


Dimmendaal (2008) notes that mounting grammatical evidence has made the Nilo-Saharan proposal as a whole more sound since Greenberg proposed it in 1963, but that such evidence has not been forthcoming for Songhay, Koman, and Bʼaga/Gumuz: "very few of the more widespread nominal and verbal morphological markers of Nilo-Saharan are attested in the Coman languages plus Gumuz ... Their genetic status remains debatable, mainly due to lack of more extensive data." (2008:843) And later, "In summarizing the current state of knowledge, ... the following language families or phyla can be identified — ... Mande, Songhai, Ubangian, Kadu, and the Coman languages plus Gumuz." (2008:844)

This "Coman plus Gumuz" is what Greenberg (1963) had subsumed under Koman and what Bender (1989) had called Komuz, a broader family consisting of Gumuz and the Koman languages. However, Bender (2000) separated Gumuz as at least a distinct branch of Nilo-Saharan, and suggested that it might even be a language isolate. Dimmendaal (2000), who tentatively included Koman within Nilo-Saharan, excluded Gumuz as an isolate, as it did not share the tripartite singulative–collective–plurative number system characteristic of the rest of the Nilo-Saharan language families. Ahland (2010, 2012), however, reports that with better attestation, Gumuz does indeed appear to be Nilo-Saharan, and perhaps closest to Koman. It has grammatical forms that resemble what might be expected from an ancestral proto-Nilo-Saharan language. Gumuz may thus help elucidate the family, which is extremely diverse and has been difficult to substantiate.

Dimmendaal, Ahland & Jakobi (2019) summarize earlier work that the evidence "suggests that Gumuz and Koman may indeed form two subgroups within a broader 'Komuz' family" and that "there is some evidence that these two language families may indeed be part of a broader Nilo-Saharan phylum, albeit outliers in the family".[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The letter ⟨Bʼ⟩ is an implosive [ɓ]. The name comes from ɓaga, the word for 'people' in the Gumuz languages and Daatsʼiin
  2. ^ 'Gumuz' is increasingly restricted to the Gumuz languages proper: Northern Gumuz, Yaso Gumuz and Southern Gumuz.
  3. ^ a b Gerrit Dimmendaal, Colleen Ahland & Angelika Jakobi (2019) Linguistic features and typologies in languages commonly referred to as 'Nilo-Saharan', Cambridge Handbook of African Linguistics, p. 6–7
  4. ^ Güldemann, Tom (2018). "Historical linguistics and genealogical language classification in Africa". In Güldemann, Tom (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of Africa. The World of Linguistics series. Vol. 11. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 58–444. doi:10.1515/9783110421668-002. ISBN 978-3-11-042606-9.
  5. ^ Ahland, Colleen Anne. 2004. "Linguistic variation within Gumuz: a study of the relationship between historical change and intelligibility." M.A. thesis. University of Texas at Arlington.
  6. ^ Ahland, Colleen and Eliza Kelly. 2014. Daatsʼíin-Gumuz Comparative Word list.


  • Ahland, Colleen Anne. "The Classification of Gumuz and Koman Languages",[1] presented at the Language Isolates in Africa workshop, Lyons, December 4, 2010
  • Lionel Bender, 2000. "Nilo-Saharan". In Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse (eds.), African Languages: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
  • Dimmendaal, Gerrit J., 2000. "Number marking and noun categorization in Nilo- Saharan languages". Anthrolopological Linguistics 42:214-261.
  • Gerrit Dimmendaal, 2008. "Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on the African Continent", Language and Linguistics Compass 2/5:842.

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