We are offering the last spaces for two sets of classes, launching next Monday evening 18 January 2016 and running for 10 weeks. We will be running both Beginners’ and Intermediate Level II classes in different rooms in the same beautiful venue near Kings Cross. The classes are from 6:30pm-8:30pm every Monday.
The beginners’ class will teach basic greetings and sentence structure as well as reading and writing, so that you can hold basic conversations, order food in a restaurant, etc.
Intermediate Level II is for people who can speak and can already read and write, and particularly aimed at people who finished our Intermediate Level I course although other Amharic speakers who want to learn more about the language are also joining the class.
“Amharic is thick and sweet; it takes its time rolling off my tongue.”
American-born writer Hannah Giorgis wrote in her July column in the Guardian about the beauty of Amharic language, as students of Amharic language can find out for themselves.
“The first language I learned to speak, under the careful instruction of my doting grandmother, was Amharic. Ethiopia’s official tongue (the second most commonly spoken Semitic language after Arabic) connected me to her then and still runs like a live wire through my extended family’s conversations. We are thousands of miles apart, separated by oceans and passports. But when we call each other, it is Amharic that carries our love across the sea.”
“..sometimes I still dream in Amharic. When my feelings are deepest and most difficult to diagram, they take on Amharic’s vivid imagery.”
But she writes in English: “the words I know best are in English. The grammar I can most readily bend to my will is that which I learned in American schools, under the perfunctory instruction of teachers insistent on making my immigrant-daughter tongue fall in line. The classical literary canon I consumed as a child – and the books topping recommendation lists even now – are those of white authors for whom English is always statement, never question… I can no longer read or write in Amharic – the alphabet hanging over my bed is more decorative than didactic.”
She told of her visit to Ethiopia in January 2015, after 10 years, and how her cousin Kidus said he enjoyed her writing, but added he did not understand everything. “The gentle accusation hung thick in the air: you write in English; your articles are not for me. For the artist in diaspora, choosing what language to create in is fraught. Indeed, I never know what language to use when explaining myself. English is easiest; I swim in it every day. But English is not the language in which I love.”
She quotes the poem from Pérez Firmat’s book Bilingual Blues, published in 1995: “The fact that I
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else”
What is your experience of Amharic language? Have you listened to the fast and ready wit of the azmari singers, or the country and eastern longing of tizita music and its lost memories, have you laughed at the Amharic stand-up comedians or wept with the heroine of an Amharic movie?
Amharic is one of Africa’s liveliest languages today, and we encourage our students of Amharic in London to learn as much as possible.
Ethiopia has more than 80 languages, but Amharic is the working language of the federal government. Millions of people – particularly those originally from Gojjam, Gondar, Western Wallo and Shawa as well as many people living in towns all over Ethiopia – have Amharic as their first language and millions more as their second language.
People who want to visit or work in Ethiopia will boost their enjoyment and their success if they can speak and read Amharic language, which we hope to achieve in our Learn Amharic beginners’ course in London starting this week.
Most Amharic speakers either initially identified themselves with their region such as a “Gondare” or – if they were part of the ruling elite – as “Ethiopians”. For this reason, Amharic was more to do with social groups, such as nobility, soldiers, settlers and clerics. It became the language of educated people who lived in towns and thus became closely intertwined with Ethiopian national identity.
Amharic had been known as the “language of the king” from the time at the end of the 13th century when King Yakuno Amlak (reign 1270-1285) overthrew the Zagwe dynasty. It took over from Ge’ez as the court language, but Ge’ez remained the language of literature, writing and liturgical uses and Amharic was used for oral communication.
The language spread further in the time of Zara Yakob (reign 1434-1468) when soldiers spread it south and to other regions as they collected taxes. By the first half of the 17th century a traveler could use it across the Ethiopian empire.
Amharic also began to replace Ge’ez for writing in the middle of the 19th century as Tewodros II (1855-68) and Menelik II (1889-1913) ordered their chronicles to be written in Amharic. As Menelik built the borders of modern Ethiopia he made the language widely used across the country. Printing, which nearly always used Amharic, began in the time of Tewodros II and government printing activities were soon followed by the first Ethiopian newspaper (1908) and the Berhanana Salam (“light and peace”) printing press began in 1923. Education outside the churches also helped spread Amharic. The first schools at the beginning of the 20th century used French, English and Italian but soon Amharic became the language for primary schools and English the first foreign language in secondary schools and higher education.
This led to more efforts to standardize Amharic, including for scientific and other terms. The formerly-titled Ethiopian Academy for the Development of Language (Amharic) was established in 1942 and eventually standardized 12,500 scientific terms.
Haile Selassie I (1930-1974) declared Amharic the official language in 1955 to demonstrate the unity of Ethiopians as a nation. He disregarded other languages, where this was feasible.
The Derg (1974-1991) started to recognize language rights of other Ethiopians, although Amharic remained the official language and the means of instruction in primary schools, which doubled in number between 1974 and 1984. Amharic was also useful for communicating between ethnic groups, but 15 languages were used for adult literacy campaigns during the 1980s. Good Amharic was still needed for all government jobs and was driven by urbanization, growing transport links, trade and commerce. Taken from “The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook” edited by Stefan Weninger in 2011 and published by Walter de Greyter, Berlin.
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