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Wolaitta language

Wolayttatto Doonaa
Native toEthiopia
RegionWolaita Zone of South Ethiopia
Ethnicity2.8 million Welayta (2022)[1]
Native speakers
L1: 2.7 million (2022)[1]
L2: 90,000[1]
Latin taught in schools[1] and Ethiopic script used by adults
Official status
Official language in
Wolaita Zone
Language codes
ISO 639-2wal
ISO 639-3wal

Wolaitta or Wolayttatto Doonaa 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. It is the native language of the Welayta people.[1] 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. Some hold that Melo, Oyda, and Gamo-Gofa-Dawro are also dialects, but most sources, including Ethnologue and ISO 639-3 now list these as separate languages. The different communities of speakers also recognize them as separate languages.[2] 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 As a result the textbooks in Wegagoda were withdrawn and teachers returned to ones in Wolaytta.[3]

In speaking their language, the Wolaytta people use many proverbs. A large collection of them, in Ethiopian script, was published in 1987 (Ethiopian calendar)[A] by the Academy of Ethiopian Languages.[5] Fikre Alemayehu's 2012 MA thesis from Addis Ababa University provides an analysis of Wolaytta proverbs and their functions.[6]

Lexical similarity with

Language status

The language is the official language in the Wolayita Zone of Ethiopia. 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. (He also has mˀ, nˀ, , but these are consonant clusters, ⟨m7, n7, l7⟩.) Items in ⟨angle brackets⟩ show the Latin alphabet, where this differs from the IPA:

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ ⟨7 / '⟩
voiced b d ɡ
ejective ⟨ph⟩ ⟨x⟩, ɗ (?) ⟨dh⟩ ⟨q⟩
Affricate voiceless ⟨ch⟩
voiced ⟨j⟩
ejective tʃʼ ⟨c⟩
Fricative voiceless s ʃ ⟨sh⟩ h, ⟨nh⟩
voiced z ʒ ⟨zh⟩
Approximant l j ⟨y⟩ w
Rhotic r

Three consonants require further discussion. Wakasa (2008:96f) reports that the use of ⟨7⟩ for the glottal stop has been replaced by the use of the apostrophe. 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 maxááp-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 maxááp-aa ba-lágg-iya-ppe tall7-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."

See also

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.[8] Ph.D. thesis. University of Tokyo.


  1. ^ 1994/1995 Gregorian[4]
  1. ^ a b c d e Wolaitta at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Abebe 2002
  3. ^ Sarah Vaughan, "Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia" Archived 2011-08-13 at the Wayback Machine (University of Edinburgh: Ph.D. Thesis, 2003), pp. 250-258
  4. ^ "Ethiopian – Calendar Converter". Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Good Amharic Books | Welcome!". Archived from the original on 2013-03-15. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  6. ^ "An analysis of Wolayta proverbs: Function in focus" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Cite error: The named reference e25 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Wakasa, Motomichi (2008). A Descriptive Study of the Modern Wolaytta Language Authors (PDF) (Doctoral thesis). The University of Tokyo. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
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Wolaitta language
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