Amharic is a Semitic language spoken in Northern Central Ethiopia by the Amhara. It is the second most-spoken Semitic language in the world and the official working language of Ethiopia. Amharic is also the official or working language of several of the states within the federal system, including the Amhara region and the multi-ethnic southern nations, nationalities and people’s region. It is written using the Amharic Fidel, which grew out of the Ge’ez abugida – called in Ethiopian Semitic language “fidel” (alphabet, letter of character) and abughida (from the first four Ethiopic letters which gave rise to the modern linguistic term abougida.
Language and culture
The origins of the Amharic language are traced back to the first millennium B.C., perhaps among descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Immigrants from southwestern Arabia crossed the Red Sea into present-day Eritrea and mixed with the Cushitic population. New languages formed as a result of this union, e.g. Ge’ez. Ge’ez was the classical language of the Axum Empire of northern Ethiopia. It existed between the 1st Century A.D. and the sixth century A.D. When the power base of Ethiopia shifted from Axum to Amhara between the 10th and the12 th centuries A.D., the use of the Amharic language spread in its influence, becoming the national language. Amharic is a Semitic language that uses a script which originated from the Ge’ez alphabet. It has thirty-three basic characters with each having seven forms for each consonant- vowel combination. Unlike Arabic, Hebrew or Syrian, the language is written from left to right.
Script a syllabary
The Ethiopian script is not strictly speaking an alphabet, but what is called a syllabary. This means that each letter or symbol usually represents a whole syllable. There are thirty-three basic shapes. These generally represent the consonants followed by the vowel ä. The basic shapes are altered in various ways to indicate a different vowel following the base consonant. The Amharic syllabary is usually presented as a grid with the vowels in the horizontal axis and the consonants in the vertical axis. On the left page is the syllabary in the most common ha-hu order. You may notice that some consonants appear more than once in the alphabet, for example “h” appears four times. For these letters each word has a “preferred” spelling. Many other consonants have a “glottalized” or “explosive” version, indicated in the table with the ‘ suffix. These do not have an equivalent sound in English, they sound “sharper” than their normal counterparts.
Amharic is also the official or working language of several of the states within the federal system, including the Amhara region and the multi-ethnic southern nations, nationalities, and people’s region, among others. Outside Ethiopia, Amharic is the language of some 2.7 million emigrants (notably in Egypt, Israel, the United States and Sweden). Most important, throughout modern times it has been the working language of government, the military and of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has dominated religious life in the country since the fourth century. It has a strong monastic tradition, and until the Marxist revolution of the 1970s, there were Orthodox clergy in almost every town in the country. Orthodoxy appears to be an amazing combination of more standard Christian beliefs in God, Jesus and Catholic saints with some Judaic element, which is reflected in religious practices. African beliefs about spirits and devils, astrology and fortune-telling are also observed within the Orthodox Christian community.