About fidels (Ethiopian Alphabet)
Written by CyberEthiopia   
Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Africa's Oldest Alphabet

Ethiopic, Africa's oldest alphabet still in use today, dates back to 100 BC. It is a system used to write the Ge'ez literary, ecclesiastical languages? Amharic, Tigré, and Tigrinya languages of Ethiopia and today's Eritrea. Both Ge'ez and the related languages of Ethiopia are written and read from left to right, in contrast with the other Semitic languages. Ethiopians call their alphabet "fidel." The Ethiopic alphabet consists of 26 letters, all representing consonants, that can  be transformed into syllabic symbols by attaching the appropriate vocalic markers to the letters.

Ge'ez Language

Ge'ez, the ancient language of the Aksumite empire, is used today only for religious writings and worship in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The ancient Ge'ez language is the ancestor of the modern Amharic and Tigrigna languages of Ethiopia. The oldest known inscription in Ge'ez dates from the 3rd or 4th century. The Bible was translated into Ge'ez between the 5th and 7th centuries. The period of classical Ge'ez literature was between the 13th and 17th centuries. Although Ge'ez ceased to be spoken popularly sometime between 900 and 1200, it continues as a liturgical language.

Amharic Language

Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia and is native to the central and northwestern provinces. Nearly one-third of the population speaks Amharic. It is an Afro-Asiatic language of the Southwest Semitic group and is related to Ge'ez, or Ethiopic. It also has affinities with Tigré, Tigrinya, and the South Arabic dialects. Although the oldest extant records in Amharic are songs and poems dating from the 14th century, significant literature did not begin until the 19th century.

Amharic is written in a slightly modified form of the alphabet used for writing the Ge'ez language. There are 33 basic characters, each of which has seven forms depending on which vowel it is to be pronounced in the syllable. The language has been strongly influenced by the Cushitic languages, especially Oromo. The dialects of Amharic are not strongly differentiated from one another.

Ethiopia's Languages Groups

Ethiopia is a mosaic of about 70 languages that can be classified into four groups--Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilotic. The Semitic languages are spoken primarily in the northern and central parts of the country; they include Ge'ez, Tigrinya, Amharic, Gurage, and Hareri. The most important Cushitic languages are Oromo, Somali, and Afar. The Omotic languages, chief among which is Walaita, are not widespread, being spoken mostly in the densely populated areas of the extreme southwest. The Nilotic language group is native to the Western Lowlands, with Kunama speakers being dominant.

Language -Mother Tongue and 2nd Language of the 5 Largest Ethnic Groups In Ethiopia 1994 Census (in million)

 1. Mother Tongue2. 2nd Language1 + 2
Amharic *17.432.75.19.622.542.5
Tigrigna *
Grand Total53.110053.1 53.1 

Source: Adapted from Central Statistical Authority (Ethiopia) 1998

* Afro-Asiatic language of the Southwest Semitic group currently using Ethiopic Alphabet

Ethiopian Alphabet

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