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Mursi language

ሙነን‎ (munɛn)
Native toEthiopia
RegionCentral Omo
Native speakers
7,400 (2007 census)[1][2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3muz

Mursi (also Dama, Merdu, Meritu, Murzi, Murzu) is a Southeast Surmic language spoken by the Mursi people who live in the South Omo Zone on the eastern side of the lower Omo valley in southwest Ethiopia.[3] The language is similar to Suri, another Southeast Surmic language spoken to the west of the Mursi language area.[4] It is spoken by approximately 7,400 people.[1]


Mursi is classified as belonging to the Southeast Surmic languages, to which the following other languages also belong: Suri, Me'en and Kwegu.[5][6] As such, Mursi is also part of the superordinate Eastern Sudanic family of the Nilo-Saharan languages.


Phoneme inventory

The vowel and consonant inventory of Mursi is similar to those of other Southeast Surmic languages, except for the lack of ejectives, the labial fricative /f/ and the voiceless stop /p/.[7]

Consonants of Mursi[8][9]
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar/
Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless t c ⟨č⟩ k (ʔ)
voiced b d ɟ ⟨dʒ⟩ ɡ
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Fricative voiceless s ʃ h
voiced z
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Liquids r, l
Approximant j w
  • Except for the hesitant inclusion of the glottal stop /ʔ/ by Firew, both Mütze and Firew agree on the consonant inventory. The layout mostly follows Mütze. The characters in angled brackets are the ones used by Firew, where they differ from Mütze.
  • Mütze rejects the phonemic status of the glottal stop [ʔ], claiming that it is phonetically inserted to break up vowel sequences.[10] Firew discusses this and leaves the question undecided, but includes the sound in the phoneme chart.[11]
  • Firew classifies the alveolar implosive /ɗ/ as postalveolar, without giving reasons.[12]
Vowels of Mursi[13]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
  • Both Mütze and Firew agree on the vowel inventory and on the chosen transcription, as shown above.[14]
  • Even though vowel length appears phonetically in Mursi, it can be explained by the elision of weak consonants between identical vowels.[15]


Both Mütze[16] and Firew[17] agree that there are only two underlying tone levels in Mursi, as opposed to larger inventories proposed by Turton and Bender[18] and Moges.[19]


The Mursi grammar makes use of the following parts of speech: nouns,[20] verbs,[21] adjectives,[22] pronouns,[23] adverbs,[24] adpositions,[25] question words,[26] quantifiers,[25] connectors,[27] discourse particles,[28] interjections,[29] ideophones,[25] and expressives.[25]


Nouns can be inflected for number and case.[30] The number marking system is very complex, using suffixation, suppletion or tone to either mark plurals from singular bases, or singulatives from plural bases.[31] Mursi preverbal subjects and all objects are unmarked,[32] whereas postverbal subjects are marked by a nominative case. Further cases are the oblique case and the genitive case.[32] Modified nouns receive a special morphological marking called construct form by Mütze.[33]


  1. ^ a b "Ethiopian Census 2007". Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency. 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  2. ^ Mursi at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  3. ^ Firew (2021), p. 1
  4. ^ Firew (2021), pp. 19 f
  5. ^ Firew (2021), pp. 36 f
  6. ^ Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. (1998). "Surmic Languages and Cultures: an Introduction". In Dimmendaal, Gerrit J.; Last, Marco (eds.). Surmic Languages and Cultures. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 35–81.
  7. ^ Firew (2021) p. 45
  8. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 26
  9. ^ Firew (2021), p. 46
  10. ^ Mütze (2014), pp. 26 f
  11. ^ Firew (2021), pp. 46 f
  12. ^ Firew (2021), p. 46; on pp. 49 f he even several times calls it velar
  13. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 37
  14. ^ Firew (2021), p. 59
  15. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 39
  16. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 42
  17. ^ Firew (2021), p. 86
  18. ^ Turton & Bender (1976, p. 559)
  19. ^ Moges Yigezu (2001). A Comparative Study of the Phonetics and Phonology of Surmic Languages. Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles.
  20. ^ Firew (2021), p. 102
  21. ^ Firew (2021), p. 128
  22. ^ Firew (2021), p. 130
  23. ^ Firew (2021), p.132
  24. ^ Firew (2021), p. 143
  25. ^ a b c d Firew (2021), p. 151
  26. ^ Firew (2021), p. 154
  27. ^ Firew (2021), p. 161
  28. ^ Firew (2021), p. 163
  29. ^ Firew (2021), p. 168
  30. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 47
  31. ^ Firew (2021), ch. 6.2
  32. ^ a b Mütze (2014), p. 53
  33. ^ Mütze (2014), p. 62


  • Firew Girma Worku (2021). A Grammar of Mursi: A Nilo-Saharan Language of Ethiopia (Thesis). Brill: Leiden. doi:10.1163/9789004449916.
  • Moges Yigezu; Turton, David (2005). "Latin Based Mursi Orthography". ELRC Working Papers. 1 (2). Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Languages Research Center: 242–57. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  • Mütze, Bettina (2014). A Sketch of the Mursi Language (MA thesis). Gloucester: Redcliff College, University of Gloucestershire.
  • Turton, David; Bender, M. Lionel (1976). "Mursi". In Bender, M. Lionel (ed.). The Non-Semitic Languages of Ethiopia. East Lansing: African Studies Center, Michigan State University. pp. 533–561.
  • Turton, David; Moges Yigezu; Oliserali Olibui (2008). Mursi-English-Amharic Dictionary. Addis Ababa: Culture and Arts Society of Ethiopia.
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Mursi language
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