Language of the Week: Qemant

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).

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13 responses to “Language of the Week: Qemant

  1. In this case, you might like to know that the talk pages of the Wikipedia entries contain more info than the articles themselves. This is due to a quite extensive debate on naming issues almost two years ago. See especially http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Kayla_language (I hope your comment form doesn’t strip URLs). That particular discussion doesn’t exactly clear things up, but at least you can find a lot of sources there as well as some extensive quotes.

  2. Bless you! Thank you for sharing this as I’ve been studying language death, and Kemantney came up in my search.

  3. i am one among qimants we are marching to declar our identity we will realize soon

  4. Hello every body in the world wana share about qimant i will help him the true because i am among them ok

  5. i will tell u the fact!

  6. Thanks for posting Thomas! Hope you like the blog.

  7. yah meet me soon i wana get some help in designing the website of the people because this website is very interesting in regarding to knowledge about us. we are not black africans. we are from caucas group. it may be interesting issue. one thing must be clarified is also the Empieror Theodros, the great ethiopian emperror. Even though He is Qimants’ emperrer he is considered as Amhara. this is deliverately done to supress the qemant people and takeway their history sothat they can’t pride themselves. every body who is interested to study his thesis can meet me and help him in regards to qimant and their history thank you

  8. What were your parents like?

  9. I come across this page by chance but very much delight to read on the articles. The time is coming for Qemant self consciousness. Any one interested to study the history social and anthropology of the society is well come. Currently there is a movement by the people for self administration permission

  10. I am very much happy to give a comment as to Qemant people and its language through this important websie.Accordingly,it is very important, I hope, to realize that Qemant people is one of the areas not tuoched by detail study…..

  11. @guale ,where have u been living, i wanna contact u please give me your email.

  12. please people learn more about Qimant.the very astonishing thing is that we are the endigenous people but still waiting for self administration. the constitution has secured our right but unfortunately some individuals in power are not willing to be obeyed for it. so please let’s raise our united hands for our right and enforce them.

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