Language Landscape of Ethiopia


“I think lately Ethiopia has, now, three official languages. English is one of them. Though English is not so widely spoken in the country, mostly in the capital city you’ll find English speakers, outside, fewer. Arabic, there’s a very old history that connects Ethiopia to the Arabian Peninsula, but that’s not why it’s an official language. It’s spoken amongst the Muslim community, not as their first language, but maybe as a common language between Muslims in different parts of the country. And then the principal language is Amharic. Now, through these 3,000 years of history, the emperors came largely from the Amhara people. They were the dominant ethnic group. Of course they lost that position when the Communists took power in ‘74. And then when the Communists fell in ’91, it was the Tigrayan people who seized power in Ethiopia, and they’ve kind of pushed the Amhara people aside. And so there’s tension between them now, too. But because of this long, long history of the emperors coming largely from the Amhara people, the emperor’s language was the language of the country. So you can find areas in Ethiopia where people don’t speak Amharic, maybe they just know a few words. But it is official.”

In this video, an Ethiopian expert discusses the languages of Ethiopia.