Now that I have submitted my field methods book and am no longer spending every spare minute cutting words from it, I’ll be trying to get back to weekly language features. (Unfortunately, all that cutting has caused my tendinitis flare up. Assume that weird stuff in blog postings is likely to be the result of speech recognition (“reccos” I think they should be called).)
This week’s language is Qemant (or Qimant, Kemant, or Kemantney). I’m using the version of the name with Q simply because that is where we are up to in the language of the week. The most recent grammar I could find calls both the language and the people Kemantney, and says that that is their term for themselves.
The naming terminology for this group is quite complex and contradictory according to the sources that I have found. It is made more complex by the fact that the group is in the process of shifting languages and reinforcing ethnic identity with the majority rather than treating themselves as a distinct minority. There are also more or less pejorative names and names with overlapping groups too.
Kemantney is a Cushitic language. It is a member of the Agew subgroup, and it seems that these languages are all quite closely related to one another. Therefore this language is sometimes called Agew. It is spoken in the Gonder area in Ethiopia (West of Gonder), in approximately 8 villages in the region. Other linguistic terms include Qara and Kayla, which are closely related dialects. I’m not exactly sure how these terms fit with Kemantney/Qimant/etc: the sources consulted seem to be contradictory, and the novels of sources they would want students to be relying on anyway.
The ethnic group who speak this language are known by the terms Falasha or Beta Israel. the first is an Amharic word, the second is Aramaic or Hebrew meaning “house of Israel”. The Kemantney a distinguished from the neighbours not only linguistically but also by religion, at least historically. Many of the Beta Israel now live in Israel, while most of those who remained in Ethiopia have converted to Christianity and consider themselves Amhara. this is one of the reasons the terms are so complex: for example the writer of the relevant Wikipedia articles seems to distinguish between Qwara, or Beta Israel, and Qemant, who are closely related linguistically, but Christian.
There is a sociolinguistic survey at http://www.sil.org/silesr/2002/031/SILESR2002-031.pdf of the relevant region written by Zelealem Leyew, who also wrote a very interesting book on language shift in the area. the book is called The Kemantney language: sociolinguistic and grammatical study of language replacement (Rudiger Koppe Verlag, 2003; reviewed with a book notice in Language here). There’s an article about the author here. apart from this, there seems to be little available (although see further Jouni Maho’s list of Cushitic sources here).