Yem (language)

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Spoken in

speaker 500,000?
Official status
Recognized minority /
regional language in
Flag of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region.svg YeDebub ( Ethiopia ) EthiopiaEthiopia 

Yem (own name Yemsa , also known as Janjero ) is an omotic language spoken in southern Ethiopia . It is assigned to the Gimojan branch of the Nordomotic. The number of speakers is not certain; estimates range from a few thousand to 500,000. The 2007 Ethiopia census recorded 160,447 people as yem in the sense of ethnicity. So far, the Yem has only been described in its essential features; the linguistic representations available also differ from one another in many points.

Within the yem a normal, a noble and a royal sociolect can be distinguished; their vocabulary differs in terms of body parts, weapons, clothing, and verbs relating to movement and the function of the human body. Due to the political affiliation to Ethiopia, the vocabulary shows a clear Amharic influence, an example of this is tamara "learn" - Amharic təmarə .


As is typical for omotic and Afro-Asian languages, the yem has voiceless, voiced and glottalized consonants ; most consonants can also appear geminated. There were five vowel phonemes (/ a /, / e /, / i /, / o /, / u /) in two distinct quantities; A distinction is also made between a middle, a high and a low tone, which, if known, are referred to below with an acute for the high tone and a grave accent for the low tone. The tones are primarily of morphological importance, they are only rarely used to distinguish between two lexemes .


Pronouns form separate forms for singular and plural , whereby the genera masculine and feminine are also differentiated in the singular in the 2nd and 3rd person by changing the tone. Nine cases can be formed by changing tones and suffixes or postpositions : tá "I", tà "my", táan "me", táak "me", táaki "to me", táassì "in me", táakìn "from away from me ”, táanèen“ with me ”. Even with nouns, the genera are differentiated by tone changes; the plural is not marked consistently. The determination is indicated by a suffix -s, cases are marked by suffixes or postpositions.

In verbal conjugation , different modes can be distinguished, which are mostly formed periphrastically, only the indicative forms different tenses. Synthetic conjugated forms have the following structure (summary of data according to Girma (quoted from Bender) and Lamberti):

  • Verbal stem
  • Plural marker -s (e) - (only 3rd person and 2nd person polite, according to Girma also 2nd person masculine and feminine)
  • Tense marker:
    • Perfect: ∅ / i
    • Habitative / future tense: f
    • durative present tense: dif
    • Future tense: a / u / ∅
    • Present tense: a
  • Person / number ( h stands for politeness):
Singular Plural
1. 2. m. 2. f. 2. h. 3. m. 3. f. 3. h. 1. 2. m. 2. f. 2. h. 3. m. 3. f. 3. h.
(on (at (at eni ∅, e, n ∅, a, n ete, e, ne (i) ni (e) ti (e) ti (e) ni te, e, one te, ∅, a, one te, e, one
  • Genus:
    • 1st person: unmarked
    • 3rd and (only according to Girma) 2nd person: masculine: high tone, feminine: low tone
  • Tense / Aspect:
    • á / à / ∅: Future tense (Lamberti)
    • r: present tense
  • Various post-verbal suffixes
    • Morphem wa : Emphasis (like Lamberti)
    • Interrogative suffixes -o, -oso, - (a) ro

The negation is marked by ane (perfect tense), -atta (present tense), afa ... za (future tense), -ta (imperative / jussive). The perfect tense and other tenses have their own negative personal affixes. The following table lists the personal affixes of the negative perfect perfect according to Lamberti:

Singular Plural
1. 2. 3. m. 3. f. 1st - 3rd
t è é à like affimate forms

A number of other tenses or modes are analytically formed with auxiliary verbs. Verbal nouns are derived from various suffixes. In addition, certain suffixes can also be used to derive verbs with a modified meaning, for example passive and reflexive verbs with -t: šuk “sacrifice” - šuk-t “be sacrificed”.


When it comes to word order, SOV seems to predominate:

maskasu-s iʔo-s Anfala-sik kaɗ-i
Woman - determination Tree - determination Ax - instrumental she cut
"The woman cut the tree with an ax."

The copula is wa in affirmative clauses, te in negative clauses, r in decision-making questions and ba in factual questions, all of which are suffixed to the predicate noun :

  • bar maŋ asu-wa er - bad - man - is "he is a bad man"
  • ta maŋ asú-te I - bad - man - not am "I am not a bad man"
  • am-ba "what is it?"
  • miní šabó maʔa-r cow - milk - good - is it? "Is the cow's milk good?"

Verbal and noun phrases can be focused using the focus particles wa , (m) ba / (m) be , tu :

  • yeé-wà "He has come "
  • oo-m-bé yeé " Who came?"
  • né tù yeér " You're coming."


  • Enrico Cerulli: ed Alcune Linguae Sidama dell 'Omo (Basketo, Ciara, Zaissè) , 1938.
  • Marcello Lamberti: Materials on Yemsa. Studi Linguarum Africae Orientalis, Volume 5. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 1993.
  • M. Lionel Bender: Comparative morphology of the Omotic languages ​​(LINCOM studies in African linguistics) . LINCOM Europa 2000, ISBN 3-89586-251-7 (on Yem: pp. 95 ff.).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Bender; there mam , that according to Lamberti 1993, page 364; PDF, page 19 and the following sentence to MAN is emended