Native toEthiopia
RegionDirashe special woreda, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region
Native speakers
69,000 (2007 census)[1]
  • Gawwada proper
  • Dihina
  • Gergere
  • Gollango
  • Gorose
  • Harso
Ethiopic script
Language codes
ISO 639-3gwd

Ale (also known as Gawwada, Gauwada, Gawata, Kawwad'a, Kawwada) is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in southern Ethiopia in the administratively part of the "southern Peoples, nations, and Nationalities Regional State" (SPNNR). It is part of the Dullay dialect cluster.[2][3]


There is no superordinate ethnonym. The name 'Dullay' was established by AMBORN, MINKER and SASSE (1980) and named after the river of the same name, which is known as Weyt'o in Amharic. This is therefore an exonimous name, but is also officially used in Ethiopia.[4]

Dullay-speaking tribes inhabit an area that stretches from the Gaedulla-Dobase Mountains south of Lake Cam to the highlands of Hanna-Hamar. Historically, the Dullay-speaking people lack an overarching term for themselves, and they do not seem to identify as an ethnic or linguistic group. Occasionally, three terms have been employed in scholarly literature. The first one, introduced by Bender (1971) came from the official Amharic administrativ denominations. for the area at that time. Second is "Qawko" by Hayward (1978) from the term "man" (saw—h-o). And the last, "Dullay" was introduced by Amborn, Linker and Sasse (1980) from the river known in Amharic as Weyt'o, which is one of the most salient features in these area.[3] In addition to that it must be written, that none of those names bears any meaning to the speakers. So all of those denomination are exonimous names. The denomination of "Ale" is a rather young denomination used in English publications and used by the today's administration of Ethiopia.

Within the Dullay dialect cluster the western and the eastern group of dialects can be opposed, the western area with Ts'amakko and the eastern part with Gawwada, which spans the two banks of Weyt'o river. Eastern dialects occupy the highlands to the east and north of Gawwada.

The name Gawwada originally comes from the village of the same name and the surrounding area that gave the language its name.[3] Gawwada and other Dullay variations, apart from Ts'amakko, are spoken in the mountainous regions at an altitude of around 1600–1700 metres.[4]

There are several distinct dialect centres within the Dullay language area. For example, the 'Harso-Dobase'. However, this differs only very slightly and is often treated as a single unit. There is also the Gawwada-Gollango. There are greater differences here than with the Harso-Dobase dialects. Other ALE-Gawwada variations are, for example, Dihina, Gergere, Gobeze or Gorose.

Here is an example of a distinction between two variations:

Harso-Dobase Gollango-Gawwada Translation
paste Pukka’te Head
korse saakanko Meat
koto mano House
Po’- Ran- to fall

There is generally little information about the Dullay-speaking tribes before the end of the 19th century. The most significant historical event in the modern consciousness of the Dullay-speaking Triebes is the conquest of their territory by Menilek the 2nd's troops in 1897/98. Through fighting, deportation and slavery, the population was decimated to such an extent that today only 1/3 of the former population still lives in this area.[3]

According to the 1994 census, there were 32,636 Gawwada speakers, and a total of about 90,000 people speaking Dullay variations in general.[3] The language is not threatened with extinction.[4]

Bilingualism and multilingualism are widespread in the Dullay language area. People often speak Amharic first, which is now the official language in Ethiopia and is spoken and used in official offices etc. Especially after the Second World War a minimum modern administration was established, and it is from these times that intense Gawwada-Amharic constant can be dated. The language contact increase in intensity after the fall of the empire. That is the reason why there is a huge amount of Amharic loans, which is probably in rise, together with literacy and the already mentioned bilingualism, because Amharic is the only language through which people have access to „modern" vocabulary within subjects such as politics, Christianity or technology. It is the language in which education is taught and in which all official organizational processes take place. Loan words from European languages (mostly English or Italian) also find their way into Gawwada through Amharic. This is also the language that is spoken the most in addition to Gawwada. Today the present constitution accords full rights to every community and language of the country: "All Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal state recognition." Another language often spoken by the people is Konso and other Konsoid variations. In most cases, Dullay variations are not written.[3]

The social structure revolves around clans that practice exogamy. These clans possess distinct abilities related to natural occurrences, plants, and animals. Various clans exhibit diverse powers, such as the ability to control rainfall and enhance cattle multiplication. Some clans specialize in tobacco, while others possess unique powers associated with matters of love or peace. Although clans do not exert economic influence in terms of land or activities, they play a crucial role in regulating marriages and serve as the primary social entity responsible for community reproduction and preservation. Each clan is led by both a political and a religious chief (polo-h-o).[3]


The phonological system consists of 22 consonants and 10 vowels. The consonants include 12 plosives, five fricatives, one affricate, one trill and three approximants. There are also seven alveolar consonants.


Labial Alveolar Post-alv./
Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
voiceless p t k q ʔ
implosive ɓ ɗ ɠ
ejective tʃʼ
Fricative f s ʃ ʕ h
Nasal m n
Tap ɾ
Lateral l
Approximant w j

Although the words usually end with a vowel, all consonants can occur at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of a word.


1. oral, plosives:

/p/, a bilabial pulmonic stop, realized as:

/t/, an alveolar pulmonic stop realized as:

/k/, a velar pulmonic stop, realized as:

/q/, uvular pulmonic stop, realized as:

/ʔ/, a voiceless laryngeal/glottal pulmonic stop, realized as lengthening of a preceding vowel when postvocalic, often with accompanying glottalization ([vʔ:]);

2. glottalic, implosives :

/ɗ/ a voiced postalveolar implosive stop, realized as:

/ɠ/ a voiced velar implosive stop, realized as a glottal- velar coarticulation [ʔɠ] when geminate;

3. glottalic, ejectives:

/t'/, an alveolar ejective stop;

/k'/ a voiceless velar ejective stop;

4. affricate

5. etc.


Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː

Long vowels will be written with the doubling of the corresponding grapheme except in phonetic transcriptions (/aa/, /ee/, /ii/, /oo/, /uu/) and both [a, a:] and [ɐ, ɐ:] will be written. /a, aa/. The phonological value of length is shown by a sizable number of minimal pairs:

a aa
Gap-a ‚to seize, catch‘ Gaap-a ‚to be afraid‘
Harr-e ‚door‘ Haarr-e ‚donkey‘
i ii
Sikk-e Trap for big animals siikk-e sugarcane
Tir-e ‚liver' Tiir-e thread
o oo
Qot-a ‚to dig‘ Qoot-a ‚To distribute’
qott-o ‚type of hoe' qoot-t-o ‚share, part‘
u uu
qut’ ‚to cut with an instrument‘ quut' to take a kattle back to the kral in the evening’

Syllable structure

The following table defines all possible syllable structures:

σ = CV(V)(C)

CV /pa.ko/ ‚mother; language'
CVV / ‚mother‘
CVC /Kol.le/ ‚river’
CVVC / ‚speckled pigeon‘

The onset of a syllable is therefore always consonantal in Gawwada, while a coda can be represented by (rarely) a single consonant or (more usually) be null.


The Dullay variations are characterised by a very rigid construction of subject-object-verb (SOV).

Puta ʔuruur-e ʔi=ʔerak-i
hyena_man wind-F INDV=send-PFV.3M
'The hyena man sent onwards the wind'

More often the MP Coreferential with the subject clitic is missing.

There are differences in linguistic coding between polar questions and constituent questions, although both types use the same TAM coding. When using yes/no questions, the voice goes up, as in English, for example.

mul-o šaah-i ︎
all-M dry-PFV.3M-Q
"Did it all dry up?"

With a consonant-final word the lengthening of the final bowl is replaced by =i

ʔizzah=i ︎

Constituent questions involve a particular element, which is substituted by an interrogative word. The interrogative word may be led by a postposition.

yaha 'who' generic interrogative pronoun for a person
moʔ-o 'what' general interrogative pronoun for an object
ʔah-a 'where' (genre interrogative pronoun for a place)
par-a 'when'
mala 'how'
meʔ 'how much/many'
moʔ-o koɗ-ti︎
what-M do-PFV.2SG
What did you do?




From a morphological perspective, nouns can be inflected according to gender, number or case. If you inflect a word in the Gawwada language, you add a suffix to the word or the word stem changes as a whole. There are different types of nouns: common nouns, proper nouns (names), adjectival nouns, positional nouns and the proniminal head and personal pronouns.

The following suffixes/infixes signal that a noun is in the singular form:

The following suffixes/infixes signal that a noun is in the plural form:


With some exceptions, all nouns are in the singular form, based on the following:

-o: Masculine

-a: Also masculine, but only for a specific type of nouns, often loanwords or kinship terms.

-e: Feminine

-e: Sometimes also the plural marker.

Final vowl Gender Gawwada English
-o M paš-o ‚field‘
-e F ʔamayl-e ‚handle of a cup‘
-e PL Minn-e ‚house‘
-a M ʔapiy-a ‚mothers brother‘

From a morphological perspective, nouns can be inflected according to gender, number or case. If you inflect a word in the Gawwada language, you add a suffix to the word or the word stem changes as a whole. There are different types of nouns: common nouns, proper nouns (names), adjectival nouns, positional nouns and the proniminal head and personal pronouns.

The following suffixes/infixes signal that a noun is in the singular form:

The following suffixes/infixes signal that a noun is in the plural form:

SING-M polis-itt-o 'apoliceman
Polis-e PL ,police' SING-F polis-its-e ,policewoman'
PLURAL-PL polis-aɗɗ-e ‚Many police‘

In the case of countable animates where gender holds little cultural significance, linguistic expression does not convey natural gender. Many of these nouns lack a morphological plural form and, instead, utilize a fixed singulative:


In Gawwada, verbs are inflected for person, number, gender, aspect and mood:

There are 3 persons in the singular and plural. In the inflection, the endings for the person, gender and number are then combined. Accordingly, the subject of the sentences can be singular or plural in number, feminine or natural in gender.

Verbs in Gawwada can be described according to four different states. The first are "situations", in which the verbs assume a static, non-dynamic form. They can also be differentiated according to "events", "processes" and "actions".

Verbs can be differentiated between Unbounded und Bounded

The negation is done by the negativ Selektor „ye“.

Auch in Gawwada können Verben nach Tense, Aspect, Mood und Modality unterschieden werden. Außerdem gibt es in Gawwada die Unterscheidung der Verben in zwei Klassen. Klasse 1 und Klasse 2. Klasse 1 Verben sind  Verben, die auf einen singel-consonant enden.


For adjectives, there is no clear-cut definition. However, they can be described as modifiers of a noun or as pronominal headings for attributives or predicates. Adjectives exhibit non-inherent gender, yet they are connected to nouns with genders. Adjectives cannot function alone within a sentence or as the head of the sentence. They also lack tense, aspect, or mood morphology but refer to the noun.


In the numerical system, numbers function similarly to numerals and modifiers, with "one" being the exception. When it comes to the tens, the base numeral is "ten," which is then expanded by an intermediary element (=pa) and the digit that completes the number.

Number EN Number Gawwada Number EN Number Gawwada Number EN Number Gawwada
1 Toʔon 11 hudda=pa toʔon 30 hudan-k-o-ʔizzah
2 Lakki 12 hudda=pa lakki 40 Hudan-k-o-salah
3 ʔizzah 13 hudda=pa ʔizzah 50 Hudan-k-o-hupin
4 Salah 14 hudda=pa salah 60 Hudan-k-o-tappi
5 Hupin 15 hudda=pa hupin 70 Hudan-k-o-tahhan
6 Tappi 16 hudda=pa tappi 80 Hudan-k-o-setten
7 Tahhan 17 hudda=pa tahhan 90 Hudan-k-o-kollan
8 Setten 18 hudda=pa setten 100 Dippa
9 Kollan 19 hudda=pa kollan 200 Dippa lakki
10 Huddan 20 Hudan-k-o-lakki


  1. ^ Ale at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Blench, 2006. The Afro-Asiatic Languages: Classification and Reference List (ms)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tosco, Mauro (2021). A Grammar of Gawwada. A Cushitic Language of South-West Ethiopia.
  4. ^ a b c Tosco, Mauro. "The grammar of space of Gawwada". Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics: 17–21.