The Gumuz language, spoken in the Blue Nile valley of western Ethiopia and eastern Sudan, is thought to belong to the Nilo-Saharan family, one of the least studied language families in the world. This dissertation project will produce a grammar of Gumuz as spoken in two locations within Ethiopia, Sirba Abay and Mandura, representing the southern and northern varieties respectively. The resulting grammar will include an extensive description and analysis of both the sound system and the grammatical structures of the language, which may shed light on the relationship of the Gumuz language to other Nilo-Saharan languages. A grammar of Gumuz will add significantly to the scant information available on Nilo-Saharan languages. The research will also address such issues as what role, if any, the social history of the Gumuz people (e.g. enslavement, migrations, interethnic contact) may have had on the development of the Gumuz language.
This research is relevant to the Gumuz people themselves in that it will aid in literature development in their mother tongue as well as provide them with resources on their native language. A detailed description and analysis of the Gumuz language is important for improving the writing system and developing literature in the language. Since 1991, the new Ethiopian political structure of ethnic federalism has recognized the right of nations, nationalities, and peoples to develop their languages for primary education and other functions. The Gumuz people have expressed interest in having Gumuz be a language of instruction in the local schools but, in order for this to be possible, further phonological research must be completed. In conducting the research for this project, various genres of texts will be collected along with phrases and word lists which will be of great interest to the Gumuz people as a record of their language and culture. In addition, a tri-glot dictionary using English, Amharic (a major language of Ethiopia) and Gumuz will be produced and made available to both linguists and the local Gumuz people alike.
This award is co-funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering.