[lg policy] So how did Amharic supersede the various languages to become Ethiopia’s first language:

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed May 15 12:19:02 EDT 2019


How Haile Selassie made the Amharic language Ethiopia’s lingua franca in
the 1930s

May 14, 2019 at 02:00 pm | HISTORY <https://face2faceafrica.com/history>
[image: Mildred Europa Taylor]

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Emperor Haile Selassie. Pic credit: tech2.org

Right from the 20th century when Ethiopia’s Amharic was made the official
language by Emperor Haile Selassie, it has been seen as one of a kind in
Africa, considering most countries have their official languages being that
of their former colonizer.

The Amharic, which descended from the earlier Ethiopian language, Ge`ez,
and spoken by the country’s Amhara ethnic group, was made lingua franca to
unite the diverse populations and facilitate communication.

Yet, experts say that the fact that it was imposed on the people by elites
from a particular ethnic group will sometimes fuel feelings of division
among the populace.

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Amharic, a Semitic language developed within the Afro-Asiatic language
family, traces back to 1st millennium B.C. to the days of King Solomon and
the Queen of Sheba. According to historians, immigrants from southwestern
Arabia crossed the Red Sea into present-day Eritrea and mixed with the
Cushitic population.

“This union resulted in the birth of Ge’ez (ግዕዝ), which is the language of
the Axum Empire of Northern Ethiopia. It existed between the 1st Century
A.D. and the 6th Century A.D. When the power base of Ethiopia shifted from
Axum to Amhara between the 10th Century A.D. and the 12th Century A.D., the
use of the Amharic language spread its influence,” writes *Amharic.com.
<http://amharic.com/wp/amharic/>*

Ethiopia currently has over 80 ethnic groups and almost a hundred
languages. The Amhara ethnic group constitutes only about 27 per cent of
the population, but their mother tongue is what is spoken among nearly 22
million people in the country as a first language.

Amharic has over 4 million second-language speakers within the country and
a further 3 million around the world, according to records
<https://www.ethiopiaonlinevisa.com/amharic-the-ethiopian-language/>. In
other words, even though the regional governments can use different
languages in their constituencies, the federal government operates on
Amharic.

*So how did Amharic supersede the various languages to become Ethiopia’s
first language:*

Since the late 12th century, Amharic has been spoken in Ethiopia in various
industries, including the legal system, commerce, communications, the
military and religion. However, the actions of various emperors in the 19th
and 20th centuries gave the language the importance it has at the moment.

According to an article on *African Arguments
<https://africanarguments.org/2019/05/08/how-amharic-unites-and-divides-ethiopia/>*,
Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868) was the first to make Amharic a literary
language, elevating it into written form. Unlike his predecessors, he
ensured that his royal chronicles were written in Amharic rather than Ge’ez.

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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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