The Gorwaa Noun Phrase: Toward a Description of the Gorwaa Language

The Gorwaa Noun Phrase: Toward a Description of the Gorwaa Language

Language: Gorwaa
Depositor: Andrew Harvey
Location: Tanzania
Deposit Id: 0404
Grant id: IGS0285
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

This deposit contains audiovisual material collected during Andrew Harvey’s work with the Gorwaa language. Beginning in 2012 and extending to present, this deposit will be regularly expanded with new recordings, transcriptions/translations, and other content.

The focus of research has been on Gorwaa morphosyntax – specifically of the noun, and features a considerable number of recordings dealing with the makeup of nouns and the structure of the larger noun phrase. A second priority has been the collection of historical and cultural material deemed important to the Gorwaa people. As such, traditional songs, stories, and common history also form a significant part of the deposit.

The collector, Andrew Harvey, conducted much of the recording from 2012-2013 during Masters-level research at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and again from 2015-2016 during PhD-level research at SOAS, University of London. Much audiovisual material has been transcribed using the Gorwaa working writing system, and then translated into Swahili. Much of this work was conducted by Stephano Edward, Paschal Bu’ú, and Festo Massani. Translated work was then translated into English and linguistically annotated by Andrew Harvey.

The photo above is of Aakó Lagweén Goti, a local elder, at Dó’ Gwaandú, a special site known for being the past home of a powerful doctor.

Group represented
The people in these recordings typically identify as Gorwaa, a small ethnic group of the eastern branch of the Eastern Tanzanian Rift. At the time of recording, the Gorwaa were mainly farmers, also keeping small flocks of sheep, goats, and zebu cattle. As in many communities across rural Tanzania, individuals and families often identify strongly with their faith, socializing most intimately with members of the same church or mosque. Various interpretations of Christianity exist alongside Islam – all of which are extensively coloured by a traditional belief system dating back to well before colonial times, notable for belief in a female deity and a lack of ritualized ancestor-remembrance.

Language information

Gorwaa (gow) (South-Cushitic, Afro-Asiatic) is an undocumented language, spoken by approximately 15,000 individuals in Babati District, Manyara Region, Tanzania. Little documentation of the language has been carried out, with no published dictionary, grammar, texts, or standardized writing system. Furthermore, due to small speaker numbers, sudden, rapid urbanization, and a political environment hostile to languages that are not Swahili or English, Gorwaa will face considerable challenges to remain viable into the next century. Gorwaa is accorded no formal status in Tanzania, and is banned from use in important public domains.

Genetically, Gorwaa is most closely related to the other core South Cushitic languages Iraqw (irk), Alagwa (wbj), and Burunge (bds). The immediate area in which Gorwaa is spoken is highly linguistically diverse, and Gorwaa probably took part in linguistic contact with languages of other families including (Southern Nilotic) Datooga (tcc), (Bantu F-zone) Nyaturu (rim), Rangi (lag), Mbugwe (mgz), and (possibly) Nyilamba (nim), Isanzu (isn), and Kimbu (kiv), (Khoisan) Sandawe (sad), and (isolate) Hadza (hts).

Special characteristics

In addition to elicitation and material related to the formal inquiry of Gorwaa morphosyntax, this deposit also contains material which may be useful to other linguists or researchers.

Colour photos of all consenting language consultants, as well as of various artifacts, plants, and forms of adornment.

Over 250 Gorwaa songs, many featuring traditional instruments. Some songs have associated interviews in which the singer is asked about its words, when it may be sung, and how they came to learn it.

Several recordings of games (hunting games, marbles, making a soccer ball, etc.)

Several divining sessions, in which a specialist divines clients’ prospects using stones.

Recordings of proceedings of a two-day Gorwaa language conference, in which individuals discussed the Gorwaa language, their attitudes toward it, as well as its future situation.

Acknowledgement and citation
Harvey, Andrew. 2017. Gorwaa: an archive of language and cultural material from the Gorwaa people of Babati (Manyara Region, Tanzania). London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: []. Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Andrew Harvey
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Affiliation: SOAS University of London

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 May 29 to 2020 May 29
Deposit hits:1
Downloaded files
Without statistics