[lg policy] Ethiopian professor delivers lecture on linguistic issues

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Apr 12 10:28:40 EDT 2018


 Ethiopian professor delivers lecture on linguistic issues
By Erica Meline
On April 11, 2018
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Photo courtesy of Ninara, Flickr

Language has always served as a determining factor in shaping cultures and
history. Language is how people communicate and learn, and therefore its
influence is evident in all threads of life. Language, however, can be a
source of conflict, and this is often the case in Ethiopia.

Ramapo Schomburg Distinguished Visiting Scholar Professor Zelealem Leyew
Temesgen of the Department of Linguistics in Addis Ababa University of
Ethiopia delivered a lecture this past Monday in which he discussed issues
relating to language in Ethiopia as well as how to combat some of these
problems.

Temesgen began by looking at the diverse range of major and minor languages
in Ethiopia.

“We have about 80 to 100 languages,” said Temesgen. He explained, however,
that some people believe there are up to 200 languages, and that the
estimates are “a matter of identifying languages in cultures.”

According to Temesgen, the lingua franca, or national official language, of
Ethiopia is Amharic. He explained that Oromo is also a “very big language”
and is the second lingua franca.

“In terms of native speakers, it is even bigger than Amharic,” he said.

Ethiopia is also bi-scriptal, meaning that the country uses “two vibrant
scripts,” according to Temesgen. He explained that there is the ancient
Ethiopian script, or the alternative Latin script.

“It’s a matter of choice, even though there’s a big difference,” he said.
He went on to reveal that people like himself prefer the Ethiopian script
for its ties to the past and conservation of culture, but that some opt for
more modern Latin script is more neutral and applicable throughout the
world.

Competition between languages often cultivates conflict, though. According
to Temesgen, there is debate over issues like which language or script
school systems should use and what should be the standard throughout the
country.

Temesgen also explained that endangered languages is another problem that
Ethiopia faces. Endangered languages exist all over the world, but
according to him, “In Africa it is very, very particular.”

“More than 10 percent, I would say, of the languages that we have in
different African countries are endangered at different levels,” he said.

Temesgen explained that languages are dying off in a gradual process, and
he is interested in combating their extinction through documentation. By
finding ways to document languages, they never truly die.

Temesgen also discussed throughout his presentation the impact
colocialization and the English language has had on Ethiopia and other
African countries. He explained that Ethiopia uses an endoglossic language
policy, meaning that they use the indigenous language. Other African
countries, however, will use an exoglossic language policy, meaning that
they use a non-indigenous official language, according to Temesgen.

Temesgen explained that Ethiopia has never officially been colonized unlike
other African countries, which is why they do not have an ex-colonial
language. Therefore English, Leyew Temesgen stated, is currently an
international language.

Temesgen’s lecture revealed the various layers of Ethiopia’s language and
its historical and present impact that many people in America are otherwise
unaware of. Students and faculty alike seemed intrigued by his presentation
and all the information he disclosed.

“It was very refreshing to have foreign problems discussed on a local
level,” said junior Angelica G. Pasquali.

Language is the key to communication, acting as a tool to binds communities
together. It has both created wars and mended them, fostered peace and
destroyed it. Language touches each person everyday, and the layers to
Ethiopia’s languages is a testament to its power.

“Language affects everything,” said Temesgen.



*emeline at ramapo.edu <emeline at ramapo.edu>*


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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