Amharic: A Language Feature

  • September 11, 2018

Do you know what the official language of Ethiopia is? If you didn’t already know, it is a language called Amharic. This language is also known as Amhara, Abyssinian, Amarinya and Amarigna, according to About World Languages.

Amharic has both major and local dialects. According to the website Amharic, two dialects of Amharic are Oromo and Tigrinya. The three biggest ones are called Showa, Gondar and Gojjami. It should be noted that all of Amharic’s dialects are mutually intelligible, which means that speakers of these different dialects will be able to understand each other to a certain degree, even if they are not fluent in the dialect or have not been exposed to it before. The Northern Gojjami dialect and the Southern Showa dialects have some notable differences to each other. These differences include vocabularies, pronunciations and grammar.

Amharic is a member of the Semitic language family, which is a member of the Afro-Asiatic family.

According to Ethnologue, Amharic has 25,873,820 speakers in total. There are 21.6 million people that speak Amharic as their first language, 4 million that consider it their second language and 25.6 million Ethiopians that only speak Amharic. In Ethiopia, there are approximately 90 languages spoken. Different sources will give you different numbers, so it is important to take these specific numbers with a grain of salt.

In 1st-10th grade, Amharic is used as the language of instruction in schools. At universities, it is also offered as a major. In the U.S., Boston University is one school that offers Amharic classes.

According to Omniglot, a slightly different version of the Ge’ez script is used to write Amharic. The Ge’ez script is a script used for writing other languages, and it is used as an abuguida, a type of writing system.

According to Britannica, Amharic is written from left to right, and its word order is SOV, or Subject-Object-Verb. Its writing system uses 33 characters, each of which has seven forms. This is because each of the seven forms are dependent on which vowel should be pronounced in every syllable, and the seven forms also help determine every single consonant-vowel combination in Amharic.

Amharic has a consonant system that is known for having a few emphatic sounds. These emphatic sounds are made when the tongue is drawn back. There are also seven vowel phonemes in Amharic. To clarify: a vowel is any sound that does not have any blocking which is caused by articulators (lips, tongue, etc). A phoneme is one unit of a speech sound.

Amharic grammar is especially fun to look at. For example, suffixes are added to nouns to show possession. There are four grammatical cases, which are Accusative, Genitive, Nominative and Vocative. Nouns are gendered as either female or male in Amharic. Amharic is one of four languages which uses triconsonantal roots, which are roots that have three consonants in one sequence. The other three languages are Arabic, Ge’ez and Hebrew. Verbs in Amharic are especially fascinating (at least to me.) Verbs agree with subjects, and at times, indirect or direct objects. Verbs change their stems in different ways, and there are approximately ten verb classes in Amharic. There also four verb moods, three of which are optative, indicative and imperative.

There are even more aspects of Amharic that I have not covered in this article, but the qualities above demonstrate the fascinating and complex Amharic language.


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