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|Ethnicity||600 Shabo (2000)|
Shabo (or preferably Chabu; also called Mikeyir) is an endangered language and likely language isolate spoken by about 400 former hunter-gatherers in southwestern Ethiopia, in the westernmost part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region. They live in three places in the Keficho Shekicho Zone: Anderaccha, Gecha, and Kaabo. As they shift from hunting and gathering to more settled agriculture and to working as laborers, many of its speakers are shifting to other neighboring languages, in particular Majang language and Shekkacho (Mocha); its vocabulary is heavily influenced by loanwords from both these languages, particularly Majangir, as well as Amharic. Its classification is uncertain, though it appears to be a Nilo-Saharan language (Anbessa & Unseth 1989, Fleming 1991, Blench 2010). It was first reported to be a separate language by Lionel Bender in 1977, based on data gathered by missionary Harvey Hoekstra. A grammar was published in 2015 (Kibebe 2015).
Once the many loanwords from its immediate neighbors, Majang and Shakicho, are removed, the wordlists collected show a significant number of Koman words side by side with a larger number of words with no obvious external relationships. The tentative grammar so far collected offers few obviously convincing external similarities. On this basis, Fleming (1991) has classified Shabo as Nilo-Saharan and, within Nilo-Saharan, as nearest to Koman. Anbessa & Unseth consider it Nilo-Saharan, but present little by way of argument for their position, and no detail on its position within the family. Schnoebelen (2009) in his phylogenetic analysis says that Shabo is best treated as an isolate, but does not exclude the possibility of contradicting evidence gained from applying the comparative method (which still needs to be done); Kibebe (2015) evaluates Schnoebelen as the most rigorous comparison to date. Blench (2010) maintains that Shabo does pattern with the Nilo-Saharan family, and that recent data on Gumuz helped tie the languages together.
The consonants are:
|Plosives||(p) b||t d||(tʃ) (dʒ)||k ɡ||ʔ|
Consonants in parentheses are not entirely phonemic according to Teferra (1995):
Consonant length is found in several words, such as walla "goat", kutti "knee"; however, it is often unstable.
Teferra tentatively postulates 9 vowels: /i/ /ɨ/ /u/ /e/ /ə/ /o/ /ɛ/ /a/ /ɔ/, possibly with further distinctions based on advanced tongue root. Five of these, /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/, have long counterparts. Occasionally final vowels are deleted, shortening medial vowels: e.g. deego or deg "crocodile".
The syllable structure is (C)V(C); all consonants except /pʼ/ and /tʼ/ can occur syllable-finally.
The language is tonal, but its tonology is unclear. Two minimal pairs are cited by Teferra 1995, including há "kill" versus hà "meat".
Shabo has an unusually complex pronoun system for Africa:
The pronouns "I" and "he" have been compared to Surmic languages; however, there are also resemblances in the pronouns with the Gumuz languages (Bender 1983). The gender distinctions made are unusual for Africa.
Negation is by adding the particle be after the verb or noun negated: gumu be "(it is) not (a) stick", ʔam be-gea "he will not come" ("come not-?"). Negative forms in b are widespread in Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic languages.
There appears to be a causative suffix -ka: mawo hoop "water boiled" → upa mawo hoop-ka "(a) man boiled water".
Much of the verbal morphology is uncertain; there appears to be a 3rd person singular future suffix -g- (e.g. inɗage t'a-g "he will eat") and a 2nd person plural suffix -ɗe (e.g. subuk maakɛle kak t'a-ɗe "You (pl.) ate corn", "you-pl. corn past? eat-2nd-pl.")
Plurals are optional; when used, they are formed with a word yɛɛro afterwards.
There is a suffix -ka which sometimes mark the direct object, e.g. upa kaan-ik ye "a man saw a dog" ("man dog saw"), but also has many other uses. A similar suffix is found in many Eastern Sudanic languages, but there is it specifically accusative.
Shabo uses postpositions after nouns, e.g.: upa mana pond ɗɛpik moi "a man sat on a rock" (lit. "man rock on ? sat").
The number system, as given by Tefera and Unseth, is as follows, with Majang equivalents to show how much is borrowed:
and 20 is iŋk upa kor ("one person complete") cf. Majang rumer iɗit 'one person complete'.