Majang language

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Ato Majanger-Onk
Native to Ethiopia
Region Godere, Gambela Region
Ethnicity Majang people
Native speakers
33,000  (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mpe
Glottolog maja1242[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Majang language is spoken by the Majangir people of Ethiopia. Although it is a member of the Surmic cluster, this language is the most isolated one in that cluster (Fleming 1983). A language survey has shown that dialect variation from north to south is minor and does not seriously impede communication. The 2007 Ethiopian Census lists 6,433 speakers for Majang (Messengo), but also reports that the ethnic group consists of 32,822 individuals (Messengo and Mejengir).[3] According to the census, almost no speakers can be found in Mezhenger Zone of Gambela Region; a total of eleven speakers are listed for the zone, but almost 10,000 ethnic Mejenger or Messengo people.[4]


Vowels of Majang[5]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Vowel length is distinctive in Majang, so all vowels come in pairs of long and short, such as goopan 'punishment' and gopan 'road'. The vowel inventory is taken out of Joswig (2012). Unseth (2007) posed a 9-vowel system with a row of -ATR closed vowels ɪ and ʊ. Moges [6] claims a tenth vowel ɐ, whereas Bender (1983) was only ready to confirm six vowels. All authors agree that there is no ATR vowel harmony in the language.

Consonants of Majang[7]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Tap r
Approximant l j w

Bender[8] also claims that the glottal stop [ʔ] needs to be treated as a phoneme of Majang though Unseth refutes this.[9] Majang has two implosives, bilabial and coronal, which Moges Yigezu has studied acoustically and distributionally.[10]

Prosodic Features[edit]

Two tones distinguish meaning in Majang,[11] on both the word level and the grammatical level: táŋ (higher tone) 'cow', tàŋ (lower tone) 'abscess'.


The language has markers to indicate three different past tenses (close, mid, far past) and two future tenses (near and farther).[12]

The language has a wide variety of suffixes, but almost no prefixes. Though its use is limited to a handful of roots, there are a few words that preserve vestiges of the archaic causative prefix i-, a prefix found in other Surmic languages and also Nilotic.[13]

The counting system is a modified vigesimal system, based on 5, 10, and 20. "Twenty" is 'one complete person' (all fingers and toes), so 40 is 'two complete people', 100 is 'five complete people'. However, today, under the influence of schools and increased bilingualism, people generally use the Amharic or Oromo words for 100.

The person and number marking system does not mark the inclusive and exclusive we distinction,[14] a morphological category that is found in nearby and related languages.


Majang has a basic VSO word order, though allowing some flexibility for focus, etc. The language makes extensive use of relative clauses, including for circumstances where English would use adjectives.[15] A recent study[16] states that Majang is characterized by a strong morphological ergative-absolutive system, and a conjoint-disjoint distinction which is based on the presence or absence of an absolutive noun phrase directly following the verb. Many of these distinctions are coded by tonal differences.[17]


  1. ^ Majang at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Majang". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ 2007 Census countrywide
  4. ^ 2007 Census Gambella Region
  5. ^ Joswig (2012), p. 264
  6. ^ Moges (2007), p.114
  7. ^ Unseth (1991), p. 526
  8. ^ Bender (1983), p. 116
  9. ^ Unseth(1991), p. 533
  10. ^ Moges Yigezu. 2006. The Phonetic Characterization of implosives in Majang, a Northern Surmic language. Proceedings of the XVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, edited by Siegbert Uhlig, pp. 822-830. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.
  11. ^ Bender (1983), p. 117
  12. ^ Bender (1983), p. 132
  13. ^ Unseth (1998)
  14. ^ Bender (1983), p. 128
  15. ^ Unseth(1989)
  16. ^ Joswig (2015)
  17. ^ Joswig (2015)


  • Bender, M. Lionel. 1983. "Majang Phonology and Morphology," in M. Lionel Bender, (ed.), Nilo-Saharan Language Studies, pp. 114–47. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, African Studies Center.
  • Fleming, Harold. 1983. "Surmic etymolgies" in Rainer Vossen and Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst (eds.),Nilotic Studies: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Languages and History of the Nilotic Peoples. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. pp. 524–555.
  • Joswig, Andreas. 2012. "The Vowels of Majang" in Brenzinger, Matthias and Anne-Maria Fehn (eds.), Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics, Cologne 2009. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 263–267.
  • Joswig, Andreas. 2015: "Syntactic Sensitivity and Preferred Clause Structure in Majang" in Angelika Mietzner, Anne Storch (eds.): Nilo-Saharan: Models and Descriptions. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, pp. 169–176.
  • Moges Yigezu. 2007. "The Phonetics and Phonology of Majang Vowels: A Historical-Comparative Perspective” in Doris Payne and Mechthild Reh (eds.), Advances in Nilo-Saharan Linguistics. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 255–265.
  • Unseth, Peter. 1988. "Majang Nominal Plurals: With Comparative Notes," Studies in African Linguistics 19.1:75-91.
  • Unseth, Peter. 1989. "Sketch of Majang Syntax," in M. Lionel Bender (ed.), Topics in Nilo-Saharan Linguistics. (Nilo-Saharan: Linguistic Analyses and Documentation, vol. 3. Series editor Franz Rottland.) Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag. pp. 97–127.
  • Unseth, Peter. 1991. "Consonant Sequences and Morphophonemics in Majang" in Richard Pankhurst, Ahmed Zekaria and Taddese Beyene (eds.),Proceedings of the First National Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies. pp. 525–534.
  • Unseth, Peter. 1998. "Two Old Causative Affixes in Surmic," in Gerrit Dimmendaal (ed.), Surmic Languages and Cultures. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 113–126.
  • Unseth, Peter. 2007. "Mağaŋgir language" in ed. by Siegbert Uhlig (ed.) Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, Vol 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 627–629.

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