NALRC Language Map of Africa


Ethiopia has one of the most extensive known histories as an independent nation on the continent. Unique among African countries, Ethiopia maintained independence during the Scramble for Africa, and continued to do so except for a 5 year period when it was under Italian occupation during World War II. The victory of Adowa in 1896, whereby the Ethiopians surprised the world by defeating the colonial power of Italy and remained independent, was an inspiration to the struggle for independence for the colonial Africa.

The third most populous country in the continent with 73 million people (2005 estimate), Ethiopia is home to diverse ethnic groups, speaking over 80 indigenous languages. Amharic is the official language of the federal government. Different local languages also serve official functions in respective regional states. Addis Ababa is the capital and seat for the African Union and various other international organizations.

Ethiopia is an ecologically diverse country. Lake Tana in the north is the source of the Blue Nile. It has a large number of endemic species, notably the Gelada Baboon, the Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian wolf (or Simien fox).

Languages spoken in Ethiopia

  • Ampharic
  • Tigrinya


Amharic, or Amarënya, is the national language of Ethiopia. Being a Semitic Language of the Afro-Asiatic Language Group, this language is related to Hebrew, Arabic, and Syrian. It is also related to Ge’ez, or Ethiopic, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Amharic has some affinities with Tigré, Tigrinya and the South Arabic dialects.

Outside Ethiopia, Amharic is the language of some 2.7 million emigrants, living in countries such as Egypt, Israel, and Sweden. Amharic has 8.5 million first-language speakers and about 5.5 million second language speakers. As of the late 20th century, nearly one-third of Ethiopia speaks Amharic.

The origins of this language can be traced back to the first millennium B.C. Immigrants from southwestern Arabia crossed the Red Sea into present-day Eritrea and mixed with the local Cushitic population. New languages formed as a result of this union, e.g., Ge’ez. Amharic has been strongly influenced by the Cushitic languages, especially Oromo.

Amharic is written using a writing system called Fidel, adapted from the system used for the now-extinct Ge’ez language. It has 33 basic characters, with each character having 7 forms, one for each consonant-vowel combination. Unlike Arabic, Hebrew, or Syrian, the language is written from left to right.


Tigrinya, also known as Tigrigna, Tigray, or Tigrai, is a Semitic language spoken in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia by about six million people. It is also spoken by a majority of the inhabitants in Eritrea, numbering to about 3.5 million. The language is closely related to Ge’ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia, and to the Tigré language.

The Tigrinya people are descendants of early Semitic peoples who settled in the horn of Africa around 1000 BC. Legend has it that emperor Menelik I, the child born of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, was the first of the Solomon line to rule Ethiopia, the last being the deposed Emperor Haile Selasie who lost power in 1974. This legend may account for why Ethiopia has close religious ties to the Christian and Jewish communites of the middle east.

The official and traditional orthography for Tigrinya is the same as that used for Amharic and Ge’ez. Tigrinya is written using the Ge’ez syllabary, a series of characters representing consonant sounds, the base form of which is modified depending upon the vowel sound that follows it.

While Tirginya and Amharic share the same Ge’ez syllabary, Tigrinya appears more closely related to its Ge’ez ancestor than Amharic. Although Ge’ez is related to other Semitic languages, it is unlike others in that it is written from left to right.

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