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Home . About Ethiopia . Ethiopia Today . People & Languages

People & Languages

Ethiopia is a true cultural melting pot thanks to the immensely diverse ethnic and linguistic background of its people.

Ethiopia supports more than 80 different ethnic groups, each with its own language, culture, customs and traditions. This diverse mix of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds has created a distinctive national identity that enables the country to offer the rest of the world a unique body of knowledge and experience. These include traditional coffee-drinking ceremonies, food and drink preparation, a variety of costumes, face & body beautification, religious and wedding ceremonies, legends and storytelling, and many other cultural events that attract visitors from all lifestyles.

  • Ethiopia possesses a unique alphabet known locally as Fidel and derived from Ge'ez, which is one of the oldest languages in the world. Fidel evolved from the ancient abjad (consonant-only alphabet) used by the pre-Axumite and Axumite civilisations of northern Ethiopia. It is classified as an abugida (syllable alphabet) and comprises 26 consonants that each take seven different forms depending on which if any vowel is to be pronounced after it.
  • Evidence is strong that the Afro-Asiatic (Hamitic-Semitic) group of languages developed and fissured in the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands. It is here that the proto-Cushitic and proto-Semitic languages began their evolution.
  • In Ethiopia, the Semitic branch grew into a northern group, today echoed in Tigrigna, and a southern group, best heard in Amharigna (pronounced Amharinya and also known as Amharic). The branch simultaneously spread to the Middle East, from whence it returned in a written form, millennia later, to enrich its cousins several times removed.
  • Much of the linguistic development came after the eighth millennium B.C., as population grew consequent to the domestication and herding of cattle, goats, sheep, and donkeys and the intensive collection of wild grains.
  • Volumes of books (in the form of manuscript) written in Ge'ez that contain valuable ancient documents on religion, history, culture, medicine, astrology and philosophy are available in the national archive, museums and in ancient monasteries in the different parts of the country. This is another asset to attract scholars and tourists to the different parts of the country.
  • Amharigna (Amharic) is the national working language, but other languages such as Oromiffa, Tigrigna, Somali, Harari, Gurage are widely spoken locally. Indeed, the various nation and nationalities of Ethiopia collectively speak more than 80 different languages.
  • Diversity is greatest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, where some 53 different languages are spoken by a similar number of ethnic groups, among them the Sidamo, Wolayta, Hadiya, Gurage and dozen-plus tribes of the Omo Valley.

Indigenous languages aside, foreign languages such as English and Arabic are quite widely spoken.