Amharic: the Ethiopian Language

amharic ethiopian language

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

Languages are not simply a tool for communication but offer an insight into a different world, culture and way of living. We have developed language as a means to transfer messages in a fast and efficient way but in such a vast world, over 6000 official languages have evolved for less than 200 (officially recognized) nations.

In Ethiopia, the official language spoken in Amharic, although Ethiopians are also known to speak various regional languages which coexist with the Amharic language.

Speaking Amharic in Ethiopia

Widely spoken throughout Ethiopia, Amharic is used as a first language for many communities and as a lingua franca by others to serve as the official Ethiopian language for business and administrative duties in all cities and towns.

According to current data, nearly 22 million people speak Amharic as their first language in Ethiopia and it has over 4 million second-language speakers within the country and a further 3 million around the world. Amharic in Ethiopia is used in commerce, government, media and national education. People who speak Amharic in Ethiopia as a mother tongue are known as Amharas.

Where does Amharic come from?

ge'ez script
Amharic has been spoken in Ethiopia since the late 12th century in various industries including the legal system, commerce, communications, the military and religion.

It uses a system taken from the Ge’ez script which serves as an abugida for various languages in the spoken area of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The script is known as fidäl meaning letter or alphabet and is used for religious use within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

It is a Semitic language developed within the Afro-Asiatic language family, which cannot be translated into the roman alphabet.

The ins and outs of Ethiopian Amharic

Due to the abugida system, the Amharic alphabet, or fidel, essentially consists of consonant + vowel characters in different sequences. It is written from left to right, using primary and derived nouns as well as prefixes and suffixes to make sentences agree with two genders and various quantities, similar to latin languages. But also uses different prefixes and suffixes to conjugate verbs in different tenses.

Amharic in the Wider World

Amharic is considered a Holy Language for the Rastafari religion, whose name itself comes from Amharic words Ras, literally signifying ‘head’, and having a similar meaning to the title ‘Duke’, and Täfäri, the name used by Haile Selassie I prior to his reign as Ethiopian regent and emperor until 1974. The religion uses Amharic in music and as a second language for many of its followers.

Although thus far Amharic has barely been used outside of Ethiopian administrative, religious and educational texts, the literary body is growing and many novels and poetry books, as well as dictionaries, manuals and journals, are now being written in modern Amharic.

Visiting Ethiopia

If you’re planning a trip to Ethiopia to discover more about the Amharic language or simply to visit this enchanting, ancient land, you’ll need much more than a simple understanding of the linguistics of its people.

With an exotic monsoon climate type, Ethiopia is made up of deserts, tropical forests, lakes and mountains which offer a range of diverse flora and fauna so any travelers will have to come well prepared for these conditions.

As well as discovering the 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites including the most famous historical cities such as Axum, Lalibela, Gondor, etc. and visiting the stunning natural National Parks, Ethiopian tourism is on the rise and offers much in the way of ecotourism and adventure travel.

Whatever your reason for traveling to Ethiopia, don’t forget to organize your paperwork such as the Ethiopian travel authorization: the eVisa for Ethiopia, travel insurance, ensure your passport is valid and in date, and plan your accommodation and transport!