Languages of Ethiopia
Sign at Lake Tana in Amharic and English
Official[1]
Recognised
ForeignEnglish
SignedEthiopian sign languages
Keyboard layout

The languages of Ethiopia include the official languages of Ethiopia, its national and regional languages, and a large number of minority languages, as well as foreign languages.

Overview

Number of languages

According to Glottolog, there are 109 languages spoken in Ethiopia, while Ethnologue lists 90 individual languages spoken in the country.[2][3] Most people in the country speak Afroasiatic languages of the Cushitic or Semitic branches. The former includes the Oromo language, spoken by the Oromo, and Somali, spoken by the Somalis; the latter includes Amharic, spoken by the Amhara, and Tigrinya, spoken by the Tigrayans. Together, these four groups make up about three-quarters of Ethiopia's population. Other Afroasiatic languages with a significant number of speakers include the Cushitic Sidamo, Afar, Hadiyya and Agaw languages, as well as the Semitic Gurage languages, Harari, Silt'e, and Argobba languages. Arabic, which also belongs to the Afroasiatic family, is likewise spoken in some areas.[4]

Charles A. Ferguson proposed the Ethiopian language area, characterized by shared grammatical and phonological features in 1976. This sprachbund includes the Afroasiatic languages of Ethiopia, not the Nilo-Saharan languages. In 2000, Mauro Tosco questioned the validity of Ferguson's original proposal. There is still no agreement among scholars on this point, but Tosco has at least weakened Ferguson's original claim.[citation needed]

Of the languages spoken in Ethiopia, 91 are living and 1 is extinct. 41 of the living languages are institutional, 14 are developing, 18 are vigorous, 8 are in danger of extinction, and 5 are near extinction.[5]

According to data from 2021 from Ethnologue,[6] the largest first languages are:

Arabic, which also belongs to the Afroasiatic family, is spoken in some areas of Ethiopia.[8][9] Many Muslim Ethiopians are also able to speak Arabic because of their religious background.[10]

English is the most widely spoken foreign language which is also taught in many schools.[11][1][12]

Languages

Commonly used and officials languages

Distribution of languages of Ethiopia (2007)[13][14]
Oromo
33.8%
Amharic
29.3%
Somali
6.2%
Tigrinya
5.9%
Sidamo
4.0%
Wolaytta
2.2%
Gurage
2.0%
Afar
1.7%
Hadiyya
1.7%
Gamo
1.5%
Gedeo
1.3%
Silt'e
1.2%
Kafa
1.1%
Other languages
8.1%

English is the most widely spoken foreign language, the medium of instruction in secondary schools and all tertiary education; federal laws are also published in British English in the Federal Negarit Gazeta including the 1995 constitution.[15]

Amharic was the language of primary school instruction, but has been replaced in many areas by regional languages such as Oromo, Somali or Tigrinya.[16] While all languages enjoy equal state recognition in the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia[17] and Oromo is the most populous language by native speakers, Amharic is the most populous by number of total speakers.

After the fall of the Derg in 1991, the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia granted all ethnic groups the right to develop their languages and to establish first language primary education systems. This is a marked change to the language policies of previous governments in Ethiopia.[16] Amharic is recognised as the official working language of Amhara Region, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region, Gambela Region, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.[18] Oromo language serves as the official working language and the primary language of education in the Oromia,[19] Harar and Dire Dawa and of the Oromia Zone in the Amhara Region. Somali is the official working language of Somali Region and Dire Dawa, while Afar,[20] Harari,[21] and Tigrinya[22] are recognized as official working languages in their respective regions. Recently the Ethiopian Government announced that Afar, Amharic, Oromo, Somali, and Tigrinya are adopted as official federal working languages of Ethiopia. Italian is still spoken by some parts of the population, mostly among the older generation, and is taught in some schools (most notably the Istituto Statale Italiano Omnicomprensivo di Addis Abeba). Amharic and Tigrinya have both borrowed some words from the Italian language.[23][24]

Writing systems

In terms of writing systems, Ethiopia's principal orthography is the Ge'ez script. Employed as an abugida for several of the country's languages. For instance, it was the primary writing system for Afan Oromo until 1991. The Ethiopic script first came into usage in the sixth and fifth centuries BC as an abjad to transcribe the Semitic Ge'ez language.[25] Ge'ez now serves as the liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Other writing systems have also been used over the years by different Ethiopian communities. These include Arabic script for writing some Ethiopian languages spoken by Muslim populations[26][27] and Sheikh Bakri Sapalo's script for Oromo.[28] Today, many Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan languages are written in Roman/Latin script.[citation needed]

Special status of Amharic

Amharic has been the official working language of Ethiopian courts and its armed forces, trade and everyday communications since the late 12th century. Although now it is only one of the five official languages of Ethiopia, together with Oromo, Somali, Afar, and Tigrinya – until 2020 Amharic was the only Ethiopian working language of the federal government.[12][29][1][30][31] Amharic is the most widely spoken and written language in Ethiopia. As of 2018, Amharic was spoken by 31.8 million native speakers in Ethiopia[6] with over 25 million secondary speakers in the nation.[6]

Although additional languages are used, Amharic is still predominantly spoken by all ethnic groups in Addis Ababa. Additionally, three million emigrants outside of Ethiopia speak Amharic. Most of the Ethiopian Jewish communities in Ethiopia and Israel speak it too.[32]

In Washington DC, Amharic became one of the six non-English languages in the Language Access Act of 2004, which allows government services and education in Amharic.[33]

Furthermore, Amharic is considered a holy language by the Rastafari religion and is widely used among its followers worldwide.

Working languages

The various regions of Ethiopia and chartered cities are free to determine their own working languages.[16] Amharic is recognised as the official working language of Amhara Region, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region, Gambela Region, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.[34] Oromo serves as the official working language and the primary language of education in Oromia,[19] Harar and Dire Dawa and of the Oromia Zone in the Amhara Region. Somali is the official working language of Somali Region and Dire Dawa, while Afar,[35] Harari,[36] and Tigrinya[37] are recognized as official working languages in their respective regions. Recently the Ethiopian Government announced that Afar, Amharic, Oromo, Somali, and Tigrinya are adopted as official federal working languages of Ethiopia. Italian is still spoken by some parts of the population, mostly among the older generation, and is taught in some schools (most notably the Istituto Statale Italiano Omnicomprensivo di Addis Abeba). Amharic and Tigrinya have both borrowed some words from the Italian language.[23][24]

Endangered languages

A number of Ethiopian languages are endangered: they may not be spoken in one or two generations and may become extinct, victims of language death, as Weyto, Gafat, and Mesmes have and Ongota very soon will. The factors that contribute to language death are complex, so it is not easy to estimate which or how many languages are most vulnerable. Hudson wrote, "Assuming that a language with fewer than 10,000 speakers is endangered, or likely to become extinct within a generation", there are 22 endangered languages in Ethiopia (1999:96). However, a number of Ethiopian languages never have had populations even that high, so it is not clear that this is an appropriate way to calculate the number of endangered languages in Ethiopia. The real number may be lower or higher. The new language policies after the 1991 revolution have strengthened the use of a number of languages. Publications specifically about endangered languages in Ethiopia include: Appleyard (1998), Hayward (1988), and Zelealem (1998a,b, 2004)

List of languages

Afroasiatic

Sign in Amharic at the Ethiopian millennium celebration.

Afroasiatic

Cushitic

Omotic

Nilo-Saharan

In Ethiopia, the term "Nilotic" is often used to refer to Nilo-Saharan languages and their communities. However, in academic linguistics, "Nilotic" is only part of "Nilo-Saharan", a segment of the larger Nilo-Saharan family.

Nilo-Saharan

Unclassified

References

  1. ^ a b c Shaban, Abdurahman. "One to five: Ethiopia gets four new federal working languages". Africa News. Archived from the original on 15 December 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Glottolog 4.8 - Languages of Ethiopia". glottolog.org. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  3. ^ "Languages of Ethiopia". Ethnologue. SIL International. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  4. ^ Yigezu, Moges (2012). Language Ideologies and Challenges of Multilingual Education in Ethiopia. African Books Collective. p. 143. ISBN 978-99944-55-47-8.
  5. ^ Ethnologue page on Ethiopian languages
  6. ^ a b c Eberhard, David M.; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D. "Ethnologue: Ethiopia". Ethnologue. SIL International. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Ethiopia". Ethnologue. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  8. ^ Yigezu, Moges (2012). Language Ideologies and Challenges of Multilingual Education in Ethiopia. African Books Collective. p. 143. ISBN 978-9994455478.
  9. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Ethiopia: Information on whether Arabic is used in the Oromo and Ogaden regions, 1 January 1996, Retrieved 19 November 2017
  10. ^ Grimes, Barbara F.: "Languages of the World", 1992. 12th ed., Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, p. 248.
  11. ^ Ethiopia. The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency.
  12. ^ a b "ETHIOPIA TO ADD 4 MORE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES TO FOSTER UNITY". Ventures Africa. Ventures. 4 March 2020. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  13. ^ "Population and Housing Census 2007 – National Statistical" (PDF). Ethiopian Statistics Agency. Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  14. ^ Hudson, Grover (2012). "Ethnic Group and Mother Tongue in the Ethiopian Censuses of 1994 and 2007". Aethiopica. 15: 204–218. doi:10.15460/aethiopica.15.1.666. ISSN 2194-4024. A Nilo-Saharan people of the Sudan (BENDER 1975: 63); the 1994 census reported 307 ethnic-group members and 301 mother-tongue speakers. Surely mistakenly, the 2007 census reported 880,818 Shitagna speakers, a number reasonably that for Siltigna
  15. ^ FDRE. "Federal Negarit Gazeta Establishment Proclamation" (PDF). Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 November 2019. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Mpoche, Kizitus; Mbuh, Tennu, eds. (2006). Language, literature, and identity. Cuvillier. pp. 163–64. ISBN 978-3-86537-839-2.
  17. ^ "Article 5" (PDF). Ethiopian Constitution. WIPO. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  18. ^ Gebremichael, M. (2011). Federalism and conflict management in Ethiopia: case study of Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State. PhD Thesis. United Kingdom: University of Bradford.
  19. ^ a b "Ethiopia". The World Factbook. CIA. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Afar Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Harari Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Tigray Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  23. ^ a b Beyene, Yaqob (2011). "I prestiti italiani in amarico e tigrino". Rassegna di Studi Etiopici. Istituto per l'Oriente C. A. Nallino. 3: 97–140. JSTOR 23622766. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  24. ^ a b Rossi, Leonardo (25 June 2009). "Assaggi da un dizionario di italianismi nel mondo". treccani.it. Istituto Treccani. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  25. ^ Rodolfo Fattovich, "Akkälä Guzay" in Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz KG, 2003, p. 169.
  26. ^ Pankhurst, Alula. "Indigenising Islam in Wällo: ajäm, Amharic verse written in Arabic script." Proceedings of the Xlth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa 1991. 1994.
  27. ^ Andreas Wetter on Arabic script for writing Amharic
  28. ^ Hayward and Hassan, "The Oromo Orthography of Shaykh Bakri Saṗalō", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 44 (1981), p. 551
  29. ^ "Ethiopia is adding four more official languages to Amharic as political instability mounts". Nazret. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  30. ^ Meyer, Ronny (2006). "Amharic as lingua franca in Ethiopia". Lissan: Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 20 (1/2): 117–131 – via Academia.edu.
  31. ^ Teferra, Anbessa (2013). "Amharic: Political and social effects on English loan words". In Rosenhouse, Judith; Kowner, Rotem (eds.). Globally Speaking: Motives for Adopting English Vocabulary in Other Languages. Multilingual Matters. p. 165.
  32. ^ "Israel's Ethiopian Jews keep ancient language alive in prayer". Al-Monitor. 29 June 2017. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  33. ^ "Language Access Act Fact Sheet" (PDF). 5 October 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  34. ^ Gebremichael, M. (2011). Federalism and conflict management in Ethiopia: case study of Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State. PhD Thesis. United Kingdom: University of Bradford.
  35. ^ "Afar Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  36. ^ "Harari Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  37. ^ "Tigray Regional State". Government of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 27 July 2017.

Further reading