Bench language

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

Spoken in: Ethiopia 
Region: Bench Maji Zone, SNNPR
Total speakers: 173,586 (mother-tongue speakers as of 1998)
Language family: Afro-Asiatic
Language codes
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: afa
ISO/FDIS 639-3: bcq 

Bench (also called Gimira, considered a derogatory term) is a Northern Omotic language of the "Gimojan" subgroup, spoken by about 174,000 people (as of 1998) in the Bench Maji Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, in southern Ethiopia, around the towns of Mizan Teferi and Shewa Gimira. It has three mutually intelligible dialects: Bench proper, She, and Mer. In unusual variance from the other languages in the region, it has six phonemic tones.


The consonants are:

Bilabial Coronal Palato-
Retroflex Velar Glottal
Plosives p b t d k ɡ ʔ
Affricates ʦ ʦʹ ʧ ʧʹ tʂʹ
Fricatives s z ʃ ʒ ʂ ʐ h
Semivowels j
Nasals m n
Liquids l, r

All of these can occur palatalized, but only before a, suggesting an alternate analysis in which "ya" is seen as a sixth phonemic vowel. Labialized consonants (+w) are reported for p, b, s, g, and ʔ, but their phonemic status is unclear; they only occur after /i/.

/p/ has two unconditioned allophones, ph and f; /j/ has the allophone w before back vowels.

The phonemic vowels of Gimira are a, e, i, o, u.

There are six phonemic tones, five level tones (numbered 1 to 5, beginning with the lowest) and one rising tone 2-3. Level 5 is sometimes realized as a rising 4-5.

The syllable structure is (C)V(C)(C)(C) + tone or (C) N (C), where C represents any consonant, V any vowel, N any nasal, and brackets an optional element. CC clusters consist of a continuant followed by a plosive, fricative, or affricate; in CCC clusters, the first consonant must be one of /r/, /y/, /m/, /p/, or /p'/, the second either /n/ or a voiceless fricative, and the third /t/ or /k/.



Plurals may optionally be formed by adding the suffix -nd3; however, these are rarely used except with definite nouns. Eg: wu5 in3gnd3 "her relatives"; a3tsn3di3 ba4 kang5 "all the people".


Personal pronouns

English oblique subject locative vocative
I ta4 tan3 ta1t'n3
you (sg.) ni4 nen3 ni1t'n3 wo1 (m.), ha1 (f.)
you (hon.) yint2 yint2 yint2
he yi5 yis3 _
he (hon.) its5 its5 its5
she wu5 wus3 _
she (hon.) gen3 gen3 gen3
himself/herself ba4 ban3 ba1t'n3
we (excl.) nu4 nun3 nu1t'n3
we (incl.) ni5 nin3 ni1t'n3
you (pl.) yin2tay1k'n3 yin2tay1k'n3 yin2tay1k'n3
they i5tsay1k'n3 i5tsay1k'n3 i5tsay1k'n3

ba4 goes slightly beyond being a reflexive pronoun; it can mark any third person that refers to the subject of the sentence, eg:

yi1si3 ba4 dor3 go1tu2e3 "he sold his (own) sheep" ("he-S. own sheep sell-he-Fin.")
bo1dam4 han3k'a4 ba3yis4ta3gu2ʂn3 pan3ts'a2 ez2-3 "when he was going along the road, he saw a big leopard" ("road-Abl. go-self self-be-Stat.-Det.-when leopard-NPMk. big see-he-Fin.")

The oblique form is basic, and serves as object, possessive, and adverbial. The subject form has three variants: normal (given above), emphatic - used when the subject is particularly prominent in the sentence, especially sentence-initially - and reduced, used as part of a verb phrase. The "locative" term means "to, at, or for one's own place or house", eg:

kar1ta4 ta1t'n3 ta3 han3k'u2e3 "I went home" ("return-I to-my-house I go-I-Fin.")


The main determiners are "that, the" (masc. uʂ2, fem. en2, pl. end2) and "this" (masc. haʂ2, fem. han2, pl. hand2). As suffixes on a verb or an ablative or locative phrase, they indicate a relative clause. Eg:

a3tsn3da2 han2dis3 har2-3am4 bad3 a4tsn3da1? "how can I separate these people?" ("person-Pl.-NPMk. these-O. what-Abl. separate make-Fut.-Intl.?")
a4tsin4 ke4tn5 yis4ken2 "the woman who is in the house" ("woman house-Loc. be-that")


The demonstratives include hang4 "here", ek3 "there (nearby)", yink2 "there (far away)", neg3 "down there", nek2 "up there". Alone, or with the determiner suffixes uʂ2 or aʂ2 added, these function as demonstrative pronouns "this person", "that person", etc. With the noun phrase marker -a2, they become demonstrative adjectives. Eg:

hang2 nas4 dad1n3 a2ta3gu2ʂ2n3 "when he came near to the man..." ("here man near reach-Stat.-Det.-when")
nya3ʔa2 ne3ga2 han2di3 "these boys down there" ("boy-NPMk. down-there-NPMk. Det.-S.")


The numbers are:

1 mat'3
2 nam4
3 kaz4
4 od4
5 utʂ2
6 sa2pm3
7 na2pm3
8 nyar2tn3
9 irs2tn3
10 tam5
100 bal2-3
1000 wum2-3

20, 30, etc. are formed by adding tam2 "ten" (with tone change) to the unit. In compound numbers, -a4 is added to each 'figure, thus:

13 = ta5ma4 ka4za4
236 = nam4 ba2-3la4 kaz3ta2ma4 sa2pm3a4

When a cardinal number functions as an adjective, the suffix -as3 can be added (eg nya3ʔa2 ka4zas3 "three children".) Ordinal numbers are formed by suffixing -nas4 to the cardinal, eg: od4nas4 "fourth".


Adjectives are sometimes intensified by changing the tone to 5; eg ez2-3 "big" > ez5 "very big".


Verbs with monosyllabic roots can have three different forms of their active stems: the singular imperative, which is just the root; the past stem, usually identical to the root but sometimes formed by adding -k (with changes to the preceding consonant); and the future stem, usually identical to the root but sometimes formed by changing the tone from 3 to 4 or from 1 to 5. Some have causative (formed by adding -as3 or -s1, and changing tone 3 to 4) and passive (formed by adding -n3, -t, or -k1 to the causative) forms. Verbal nouns are formed from the stem, sometimes with tone change or addition or -t.

Verbs with polysyllabic roots have at least two forms, one with an intransitive or passive meaning and one with a transitive or causative meaning; the former ends in -n3, the latter in -as3. A passive may be formed by ending in -as3n3. Verbal nouns are formed by taking the bare stem without -n3 or -as3.

Compound verbs are formed with mak2 "say" or mas2 "cause to say", a formation common among Ethiopian languages.

The primary tenses are simple past (formed from the past stem), future (future stem plus -ns3-), present perfect (from present participle stem); negative (future stem plus -arg4-.) Eg: ham3 > han3k'u2e3 "he went"; ham4sm3su2e3 "he will go"; han3k'n4su2e3 "he has gone".

There are four corresponding participles: past (formed from the past stem), present perfect (formed from the past stem with the suffix -ns4-, -ng4, or -ank'4-), imperfect (formed from the future stem with the stative suffix -ag3-), and negative (formed from the future stem with the negative suffix -arg4- or -u2- or a person/number marker.)

The order of affixes is: root - (tense) - (negative) - (foc. pn.) - person/number - marker.

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