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Documentation and Grammatical Description of Komo


Language Komo
Depositor Tesfaye Negash
Affiliation Addis Ababa University
Location Ethiopia
Collection ID 0287
Grant ID IGS0194
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection aims to provide an audio-visual corpus of oral genres of Komo (ISO639-3:xom), a Nilo-Saharan language in Ethiopia and Sudan spoken by about 11,000 people. People’s movement due to resettlement programs, instability, and contact with dominant languages is leading the loss of oral genres such as folktales, riddles, and other linguistic resources. The collection will serve the community to re-energise and maintain the use of these genres in the socialisation of children as well as serve as a resource for linguistic research.


Group represented

The Komo people live on the borderland of Ethiopia and Sudan. In Ethopia, most of the Komo people live west of Tongo in Benishangul Gumuz region. Very few Komo people also live near Itang in the Gambella region and in Wollega to the west of Dembidol in the Oromo region. On the Sudanese side, the Komo people live around the Ahmar, Tombak and Yabus (Dabus) rivers in the Southern Funji region of the Blue Nile Province.

The people call themselves Komo or Go-kwom, which means ‘people of Komo’. They call their language T’a –komo which means ‘mouth of Komo’ or ‘mouth of Koma’.
The materials for this collection were gathered mainly in the Kesor settlement village, located west of Tongo in the Benishangul Gumuz region, because there the language is still used in some of the daily life domains.


Language information

Komo (ISO639-3:xom; Nilo-Saharan, Koman) is one of the least studied languages among the Nilo-Saharan languages. It is spoken on the borderland area of Ethiopia and Sudan. Political instability and insecurity mean that in Sudan, the people frequently move. In Ethiopia, the Komo people have been resettled in a new village as part of the government’s resettlement program and they now live together with Mao, Kwama and Oromo people. Most Komo people are at least bilingual if not multilingual, speaking additional languages such as Oromo, Kwama or Arabic.

When he was an English teacher in remote areas of Gambella for nine years, Tesfaye Negash observed that the children of the Komo people in Gambella are no longer learned the language as their mother tongue in home, and the number of Komo speakers was very low, about 250 speakers. Komo is not a language of education in the region. Major dominant languages spoken in the region are Aniwak, Nuer and Oromo; the regional administrative language is Amharic. The situation west of Dembidolo in the Oromo region is similar. The Komo of Gambella and near Dambidolo are shifting their languages – they use primarily Oromo in the market and at schools and near Dembidolo even when talking to their siblings.

In the Benishangul Gumuz region, there are many Nilo Saharan and Omotic language groups. All Komo in Benishangul Gumuz have been resettled to new village near Tongo and co-habit with other ethnic groups such as Kwama, Mao and Oromo. Oromo is mainly the dominant language and language of wider communication. Komo speakers use Oromo in the market and in a day to day social life contacts among the Oromo, Kwama, and Mao. The administrative language is also Amharic and Komo still is not a language of education. Moreover, there are about 35,000 Sudanese refugees who are speakers of Aniwak, Nuer, Uduk and Komo as spoken near Tongo. Refugees’ language of wider communication is Arabic.

There are about 2,000 Komo people in Benishangul Gumuz. They live in four new settlement villages near Tongo administrative area: Yengu, Kesor, Zabshir and Laki villages. Both Komo and Kwama speakers are considered as Komo in the region and in the population census the Komo and Kwama are counted as if they were Komo. This means that the number of Komo speakers are considered be around 6,000, when in fact the Komo speakers in Benishangul Gumuz region are far fewer, around 2,000.

In Ethiopia, most of the Komo understand Kwama but most of the Kwama do not understand Komo. The Kwama consider the Komo as Kwama clan. However, most of the Komo people are aware of the differences between Komo and Kwama as most of the Komo are bilingual in Kwama. In Ethiopia, the Kwama outnumber the Komo, whereas in Sudan the situation is vice versa in Sudan: the Komo outnumber the Kwama and the Kwama are bilingual in Komo.

The Komo language is still hardly being transmitted to children and it is being threatened by people’s movement due to resettlement program and instability, the influences of the bigger languages (Oromo, Amharic, Kwama, Mao, Arabic), Amharic as the local administrative language, and religious reasons. This is leading to loss and disappearance of oral genres such as folktales, riddles, ritual texts, and other linguistic resources.


Special characteristics

Before setting out on this research, Tesfaye Negash lived in the Komo community in Gambella near the border of Sudan for nine years, and worked there as an English teacher. He therefore already knew the Komo language and the people.


Collection contents

The materials in this collection were gathered through participant observation, observed communicative events, staged communicative events and recordings of oral genres.
When complete, the collection will contain

  • an audio and video corpus of about 30 hours of naturalistic or natural data, including oral genres such as folktales, riddles, ritual texts, narratives and songs as well as basic vocabularies (around 2,500 words) and example sentences indicating basic features of grammar of Komo
  • transcriptions, translations and annotations of part of the recordings, including ethnographic glossing and commentary such as cultural norms and appropriate use of the language within the culture
  • a lexical database
  • metadata
  • a PhD thesis


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered between 2013 and 2015 during the fieldwork for Tesfaye Negash’s PhD research funded by an ELDP Individual Graduate Scholarship.


Other information

A copy of the materials will be presented to Addis Ababa University and to the local community.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Negash, Tesfaye. 2014. Documentation and Grammatical Description of Komo. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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