Native toEritrea, Ethiopia
RegionSouthern, Northern and Southern Red Sea regions in Eritrea, Tigray in Ethiopia
Native speakers
180,000 (2007–2022)[1]
Geʽez script (Used in Ethiopia)
Latin alphabet (Used in Eritrea)
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3ssy

The Saho language (Tigrinya: ሳሆኛ/ቋንቋ ሳሆ) is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. It belongs to the family's Cushitic branch.


Saho is spoken natively by the Saho people. Traditionally, they inhabit the territory in Eritrea bounded by the bay of Erafayle in the east, the Laacasi Gade valleys in the south, and the Eritrean highlands to the west (the Shimejana district on the eastern flank of the South- or Debub region in what was formerly known as Akele Guzai province).

This speech area is bordered by other Afro-Asiatic-speaking communities, with Tigre speakers on the west and Afar speakers on the east. In Ethiopia, Saho is primarily spoken in the Tigray Region. It has about 250,000 speakers in total and four main dialects:[clarification needed] Northern dialect, mainly spoken by Casawurta, Tharuuca, Casabat Care, etc.; Central dialect is mainly spoken by Faqhat Xarak of Minifere; Southern dialect mainly spoken by Minifire, Xazo, Dabrti-meela, Irob, Sancafe.[2]

The Saho also use the Arabic (special now Latin letters)[clarification needed] to document their history and render information.

The Saho language in former Italian Eritrea has received a strong influence of italian loanwords.[3]

Also recently the language is being used on the cyberspace as a tool of communication. And there is on website completely designed with saho language.[4]

Saho is so closely related to the Cushitic Afar language, spoken as a mother tongue by the Afar people, that some linguists regard the two tongues as dialects of a single "Saho–Afar language". Regardless, it has been shown that at least in their basic lexicon the two can be cleanly separated.[5]



Labial Dental/
Retroflex Dorsal Pharyngeal/
Plosive voiceless k ʡ (ʔ)
voiced b ɖ g
ejective (t̪ʼ) ()
Fricative voiceless f s ħ h
voiced (z) (ʕ)
ejective ()
Nasal m n
Rhotic ɾ
Approximant w l j


Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː
Open a aː

Writing systems

Saho has three written versions: a version in the Latin alphabet, official in Eritrea; a version in the Ge'ez script, official in Ethiopia; and a version in the Ajami script with no official recognition.[5]


  1. ^ Saho at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Saho language at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  3. ^ Banti, Giorgio. "Italian loanwords in saho" (in Italian).
  4. ^ " - the Saho on line Community". Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  5. ^ a b Banti, Giorgio; Vergari, Moreno (2017). "Aspects of Saho dialectology". Afroasiatica Romana. Proceedings of the 15th meeting of Afroasiatic linguistics. Sapienza Università de Roma. pp. 65–81.
  6. ^ a b Tajebe, Esayas (2015). Descriptive Grammar of Saaho. Addis Ababa University.

Further reading