ዛይኘ, የዛይ አፍ
Native toEthiopia
RegionLake Zway
Native speakers
14,000 (2005)[1]
Geʽez script
Language codes
ISO 639-3zwa
Zay is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Zay (Oromo: Lak'i, Laqi) is an Afroasiatic language of the Semitic branch spoken in Ethiopia. It is one of the Gurage languages in the Ethiopian Semitic group. The Zay language has around 5,000 speakers known as the Zay, who inhabit Gelila and the other five islands and shores of Lake Zway in the southern part of the country.

Language situation

Map of Ethiopia with mark showing location of Lake Zway
Map of Ethiopia with mark showing location of Lake Zway
Lake Zway
Map of Ethiopia Showing where Zay is Spoken

Zay is an unwritten language. Most speakers are multilingual in other Gurage languages, in the Oromo language, and in Amharic.[2] The language is geographically concentrated around Lake Zway; specifically, in Herera, Meki, Ziway, and the five islands: Fundurro Island (Famat or Getesemani Island) the smallest island; Tsedecha Island (Aysut Island), next to the biggest island; Debre-Tsion Island, the largest island; Gelila Island; and Debre Sina Island. It is an endangered language, with speakers migrating to the mainland adopting the Oromo language, and increasing use of Oromo by the younger generations on the Zay islands.

Zay is 70% lexically similar with the Siltʼe language, and 60% with Harari.[3]


The word order of Zay is SOV (subject–object–verb). Attributive adjectives precede the nouns they modify. Possessives also precede nouns.[4] Zay is a pro-drop language, with required subject-marking on the verb.

Zay has been greatly affected by contact it has had with the Gurage languages. This contact has created a significant amount of lexical and grammatical change in Zay.[5]


  1. ^ Zay at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Meyer, R. (2006). "The Zay Language (East-Gurage, Ethiopia)". Mainz University.
  3. ^ Jordan, Linda; Netzley, Jillian; & Mohammed, Hussein (2011). "A Sociolinguistic Survey Report of the Zay People in Ethiopia". SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2011-046: 43, 2011-046
  4. ^ Hayward, Richard J. (1990). "Notes on the Zayse Language". Hayward, Richard J.(ed.). London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
  5. ^ Meyer, R. (2006). "The Zay Language (East-Gurage, Ethiopia)". Mainz University.

Further reading