Spreading Amharic language in Ethiopia

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.

Last 2 places for learning Amharic

Bookings have been very strong for our Amharic lessons in London starting next week 22 October. There are still 2 places, please use the contact form or write to info [at] learnamharic.co.uk if you would like to reserve your place or to get more details.
We are looking forward to meeting our prospective students who want to learn Amharic in our central London venue.
The Amharic course will be nine sessions, from 22 October to 17 December, at 6:30pm-8pm and the classes are being held in Bloomsbury, central London, near the British museum.

Ge’ez for cellphones

The first cellphones for messages in Ge’ez script went on sale in 2007, just in time for the Ethiopian millennium celebrations. Previously people had to send each other messages in English or Italian or transcribe Amharic words into Roman script (the script used by most European languages).
The Ge’ez script works for languages such as Amharic and is the oldest African script still in widespread and current use for literature, news, notices, legal and all other uses. It is very widely used in Ethiopia, and also in other countries where there are Ethiopian communities.
Nokia developed the phones, according to the BBC. They had onscreen instructions in Amharic, keypads showing both English and Ge’ez characters and it was even possible to set dates according to Ethiopia’s 13-month calendar, in terms of which the new millennium dawned on 11 September 2007.
The lessons at Learn Amharic in London will also give students insights into Ethiopian culture, calendar, time and manners as well as the latest developments.
Roman script has 26 characters but the various variations of Ge’ez characters, which combine vowels and consonants, have nearly 300. You need one or two keystrokes to create the combination. The system was built around a Unicode – UCS2 standard – font, so the messages should be able to be transmitted on any UCS2 compatible network and displayed on any UCS2 capable phone, normally those which can display Arabic or Hindi and other scripts.
The new millennium in 2007 also signaled the end of a two-year ban on SMS messaging in Ethiopia, with the service switched off since the 2005 political unrest.
By 2011, ABSHA/ECS in the USA produced a program to type and search using the Ge’ez font that works on Android cellphones. The same company had computerized Ethiopic languages with ModEth, a DOS wordprocessor for Ethiopia, released in 1987 so that each character could be achieved with one or two keystrokes.
Many computers in Ethiopia come supplied with typing software for Ge’ez fidels. We will offer Amharic lessons that will help our students who learn Amharic to read and write, although learning Amharic for typing is a step further than our syllabus.
This website KeyManWeb offers a chance for Amharic students to try their Amharic typing.