Wolaytta language

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Native to Ethiopia
Region Wolaytta region, Lake Abaya area
Native speakers
1.6 million (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 wal
ISO 639-3 wal
Glottolog wola1242[2]

Wolaytta[3] is a North Omotic language of the Ometo group spoken in the Wolayita Zone and some other parts of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region of Ethiopia. The number of speakers of this language is estimated at 2,000,000 (1991 UBS); it is the native language of the Welayta people.[4] The estimates of the population vary greatly because it is not agreed where the boundaries of the language are.

There are conflicting claims about how widely Wolaytta is spoken. The Ethnologue identifies one smaller dialect region: Zala. Some hold that Melo, Oyda, and Gamo-Gofa-Dawro are also dialects, but most authorities, including Ethnologue and ISO 639-3 now list these as separate languages. The different communities of speakers also recognize them as separate languages.[5] A variety called Laha is said to be 'close' to Wolaytta in Hayward (1990) but listed as a distinct language by Blench; however, it is not included in Ethnologue.

Wolaytta has existed in written form since the 1940s, when the Sudan Interior Mission first devised a system for writing it. The writing system was later revised by a team led by Dr. Bruce Adams. They finished the New Testament in 1981 and the entire Bible in 2002. It was one of the first languages the Derg selected for their literacy campaign (1979–1991), before any other southern languages. Welaytta pride in their written language led to a fiercely hostile response in 1998 when the Ethiopian government distributed textbooks written in Wegagoda – an artificial language based on amalgamating Wolaytta with several closely related languages. As a result the textbooks in Wegagoda were withdrawn and teachers returned to ones in Wolaytta.[6]

In speaking their language, the Wolaytta people use many proverbs. A large collection of them, in Ethiopian script, was published in 1987 (Ethiopian calendar) by the Academy of Ethiopian Languages.[7] Fikre Alemayehu's 2012 MA thesis from Addis Ababa University provides an analysis of Wolaytta proverbs and their functions.[8]

Lexical similarity with

Geographical names

Balta, Borodda, Ganta, Otschollo, Uba.

Language status

The language is the official language in the Wolayita Zone of Ethiopia. The Ethnologue cites statistics that 5% to 25% of the population are literate in this language. Portions of the Bible were produced in 1934, the New Testament in 1981, and the entire Bible in 2002.



Wakasa (2008) gives the following consonant phonemes for Wolaytta. Items in ⟨angle brackets⟩ show Wakasa's practical alphabet, where this differs from the IPA:

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m, ⟨M⟩ n, ⟨N⟩
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ ⟨7⟩
voiced b d ɡ
ejective ⟨P⟩ ⟨T⟩, ɗ (?) ⟨D⟩ ⟨K⟩
Affricate voiceless ⟨c⟩
voiced ⟨j⟩
ejective tʃʼ ⟨C⟩
Fricative voiceless s ʃ ⟨sh⟩ h, ⟨nh⟩
voiced z ʒ ⟨zh⟩
Approximant l ⟨L⟩ j ⟨y⟩ w
Rhotic r

Two consonants require further discussion. The sound written ⟨nh⟩ is described by Wakasa (2008:44) as a 'nasalized glottal fricative'; it is said to be extremely rare, occurring in only one common noun, an interjection, and two proper names. The status of the sound written ⟨D⟩ is apparently in dispute; Adams (1983:48) and Lamberti and Sottile (1997:23, 25-26) claim that it is implosive, thus presumably [ɗ ]. Wakasa (2008:62) denies that this consonant is implosive, and calls it 'glottalized'. (See implosive for more on such discrepancies.)


Wolaytta has five vowels, which appear both long and short:

Front Central Back
High i, u,
Mid e, o,
Low a,


Word order

Like other Omotic languages, the Wolaytta language has the basic word order SOV (subject–object–verb), as shown in the following example (Wakasa 2008:1041):

na7-ái 7iss-í maTááp-aa shamm-íis.
child-NOM.M.SG. one-OBL. book-ABS.M.SG. buy-PF.3M.SG.
'The boy bought a book.'

It has postpositional phrases, which precede the verb (Wakasa 2008:1042):

ta-7ish-ái maTááp-aa ba-lágg-iya-ppe taLL-íis.
my-brother-NOM.M.SG. book-ABS.M.SG. his:own-friend-OBL.M.SG.-from borrow-PF.3M.SG.
'My brother borrowed a book from his friend.'

Nouns used adjectivally precede the nouns that they modify (Wakasa 2008:1044)

ló77-o dé7-uwa de7-áis.
good-OBL life-ABS.M.SG live-IMPF.1SG.
'I live a good life.'

Numerals precede the nouns that they quantify over (Wakasa 2008:1045)

na7-ái naa77-ú máCC-a 7as-atá be7-íis.
child-NOM.M.SG two-OBL female-OBL people-ABS.PL see-PF.3M.SG.
'The boy saw two women.'


  1. Ethiopia 2007 Census
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Wolaytta". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Other transliterations include Wolaitta, Wolaita, and Wolayta or Welayta.
  4. Wolaytta entry in Ethnologue
  5. Abebe 2002
  6. Sarah Vaughan, "Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia" (University of Edinburgh: Ph.D. Thesis, 2003), pp. 2550- 258
  7. http://www.good-amharic-books.com/onebook.php?bookID=846
  8. An analysis of Wolayta proverbs: Function in focus. http://etd.aau.edu.et/dspace/bitstream/123456789/4479/1/edited%20theses33.pdf
  9. http://www.ethnologue.com/language/wal

Further reading

  • Adams, Bruce A. 1983. A Tagmemic Analysis of the Wolaitta Language. Unpublished PhD. thesis, University of London.
  • Adams, Bruce A. 1990. Name nouns in Wolaitta. In Omotic Language Studies ed. by Richard Hayward, 406-412. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Amha, Azeb. 2001. Ideophones and compound verbs in Wolaitta. In Ideophones. Typological Studies in Language, ed. by Voeltz, F.K. Erhard and Christa Kilian-Hatz, 49-62. Amsterdam - Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Amha, Azeb. 2010. Compound verbs and ideophones in Wolaitta revisited. In Complex Predicates: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on Event Structure, ed. by Mengistu Amberber, Brett Baker and Mark Harvey, 259-290. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Amha, Azeb. 2001. Wolaitta. In Facts about the World Languages, an Encyclopedia of the Worlds Major Languages, Past and Present, ed. by J. Garry and C. Rubino, ed., 809-15. New York - Dublin: H.W. Wilson.
  • Amha, Azeb, 1996. Tone-accent and prosodic domains in Wolaitta. In Studies in African Linguistics 25(2), pp. 111-138.
  • Lamberti, Marcello and Roberto Sottile. 1997. "The Wolaytta Language". In Studia Linguarum Africae Orientalis 6: pp. 79–86. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe.
  • Ohman, Walter and Hailu Fulass. 1976. Welamo. In Language in Ethiopia, ed. by M. L. Bender, C. Bowen, R. Cooper, and C. Ferguson, pp. 155–164. Oxford University Press.
  • Wakasa, Motomichi. 2008. A Descriptive Study of the Modern Wolaytta Language. Ph.D. thesis. University of Tokyo.

External links

See also