SOAS University of London

SOAS Language Centre

Amharic at SOAS Language Centre

Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia, a multilingual country, where it is spoken by a large minority of the population as a first or second language (The other major language of Ethiopia is Oromo). It belongs to the Semitic language family, a family that includes Arabic and Hebrew. The origin of the language is the Arabian peninsula, from which speakers of Southern Semitic dialects migrated in remote antiquity.

Despite its origins, Amharic is not mutually intelligible with the Semitic languages of the Near East, having separated from the main Semitic stock long before the Christian era: its closest living linguistic relatives are Tigrinya, the national language of Eritrea, and Tigre, an important local language in Eritrea. Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre are all related to the ancient (and now extinct) Ge’ez, the language of Christian scripture and of Orthodox liturgy.

Amharic continues to use the traditional writing system of Ge’ez, with the omission of a few letters indicating sounds not attested in Amharic. This system, known as the fidel, is syllabic rather than alphabetic; consonants indicate the presence of vowels by a number of complex stroke modifications. Despite its traditional outward appearance, Amharic is a living and evolving language with a rapidly growing number of speakers worldwide.   

The SOAS Language Centre can offer the following course in Amharic: