SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Languages of Africa at SOAS: Amharic

Amharic is the working language of Ethiopia and is spoken by around 17.5 million people as their mother tongue and by many more as a second language. Though it is only one of about ninety languages spoken within Ethiopia it has been the language of the court and the dominant population group in highland Ethiopia since at least the late 13th century and remains the principal language of Ethiopia. It belongs to the Semitic family of languages and as such is related to Arabic and Hebrew although it differs to a large extent from these languages particularly in its sentence structure. It is written in a script used only in Ethiopia and Eritrea, a syllabary, derived from the alphabet of ancient South Arabia. Whilst the earliest traces of written Amharic go back to the 14th century, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that Amharic came to be the regular written medium in Ethiopia, supplanting Ge'ez. The present century has seen the appearance and growth of a literature in Amharic becoming one of the most prolific vernacular literatures in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Study Amharic at SOAS

If you would like to learn Amharic contact Dr Martin Orwin ( in the Africa Section of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics.

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