Language Death in Mesmes: A Sociolinguistic and Historical-Comparative Examination of a Disappearing Ethiopian-Semitic Language

Ahland, Michael Bryan

In this book the author presents an historical examination of sound change and other developments in the very-nearly extinct Gurage language known as Mesmes while also considering the linguistic and social environments in which the language has been lost. The study provides evidence for Mesmes' linguistic relatedness with the other Gurage languages and with the Peripheral West Gurage subgroup in particular. The account also considers the impact of phenomena related to language loss and the linguistic effects of contact with Hadiyya, the language to which the Mesmes people have shifted today.

The comparative work relies on previously published sources as well as unpublished fieldnotes and also provides the first fully annotated and interlinearized Mesmes text. This examination underscores that historical-comparative work may benefit from serious consideration of external, contact-related phenomena while at the same time not compromising a commitment to shared innovations as determined by the Comparative Method.

About the Author

Michael Ahland received his M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2004. He has continued his research on the languages of Ethiopia. In 2010, he is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Oregon where he is writing his dissertation, a grammar of Northern Mao (Bambassi-Didessa), an understudied and endangered Omotic language.

Table of Contents:

List of Maps
List of Figures
List of Tables

  1. Introduction
  2. 1.1 The Gurage Cluster and Mesmes
    1.2 The Gurage language survey of 2001
    1.3 The Identification of the Lects in the Gurage Cluster
    1.4 Historical Work on the Gurage Varieties
    1.4.1 The Work of Leslau
    1.4.2 The Work of Hetzron
    1.4.3 A New Proposal for Ethio-Semitic Classification
    1.5 The Debate over the Semitic Homeland
    1.6 Previous Research on Mesmes
    1.6.1 The Work of Bender: The Wordlist, Lexicostatistics, and Grammatical Paradigms
    1.6.2 Hetzron on Mesmes

  3. Establishing the Socio-Historical Context
  4. 2.1 The Importance of the Social Setting
    2.2 The Gurage–Hadiyya Contact Situation
    2.3 The Recent History and Current Status of Mesmes
    2.3.1 An Interview with the Terminal Speaker
    2.3.2 The Shift to Hadiyya and the Death of Mesmes
    2.3.3 The Maintenance of Identity Across Language Death

  5. The Implications of Language Death
  6. 3.1 The Reliability Question
    3.1.1 The Challenge of a Terminal Speaker
    3.2 An Evaluation of the Reliability of the Mesmes Data
    3.2.1 The Reliability of the Mesmes Wordlist
    3.2.2 The Reliability of the Mesmes Text
    3.3 Linguistic Implications
    3.3.1 Externally Induced Changes
    3.3.2 Internally Induced Changes
    3.3.3 Reduction and Replacement Trends in Language Contact
    3.4 The Modes of Language Death
    3.5 The “Later Loss” Hypothesis and “Rusty Speakers”
    3.6 An Examination of the Mesmes Text in Light of the Linguistic Implications
    3.6.1 Possible Examples of the Impact of Language Death in the Mesmes Text
    3.6.2 Evidence of Maintenance of Inherited Structure in Mesmes

  7. The Genetic Position of Mesmes
  8. 4.1 The Establishment of Mesmes as a Gurage Language
    4.1.1 The Ethnonym as Evidence of Guragoid Placement
    4.1.2 The Main Verb Marker Retention Attesting to a Genetic Link with Gurage
    4.1.3 Morpho-Syntactic Evidence of Guragoid Relationship
    4.1.4 Lexical Evidence of Close Relationship with PWG
    4.2 Shared Innovations Linking Mesmes with PWG
    4.2.1 Innovations in the Pronominal Paradigm
    4.2.2 Markedness Reversal and the Beginnings of an Obstruent Chain Shift
    4.2.3 An Examination of the Systematicity of Relative Chronology in the Mesmes Data
    4.2.4 Additional Links Between Mesmes and PWG Weakening of the Bilabial Nasal and the Genesis of the Non-Etymological /n/ Relevant Vocalic Length Other Vocalic Changes in Mesmes Pharyngeal Archaisms and Systematic Metathesis

  9. Evidence of Contact-Induced Change in the Mesmes Data
  10. 5.1 The Nature of Externally-Induced Change
    5.2 Loanwords in the Mesmes Wordlist
    5.3 Paradigmatic Leveling in Mesmes
    5.4 The Mesmes Final Vocalism
    5.5 Vocalic Phenomena in Mesmes
    5.6 Possible Syntactic Change as a Result of Contact
    5.7 Cushitic Stop-Attacks in Endegeny and Mesmes

  11. Conclusion
  12. 6.1 Subgrouping Internal to PWG
    6.2 Unerscoring the Holistic Approach


A Peripheral West Gurage Wordlist Comparison with Mesmes
B Mesmes, Hadiyya and Kambaata Comparison
C The Mesmes Text
D Notes on the Analysis of the Mesmes Text
E Gurage language survey Map with Principal Towns


Retail Price:
xi, 142 pages
Language death
Comparative and historical studies
ISBN 13:
ISBN 10:
6 × 9 × 0.33 in
0.7 lb
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