Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Yaroslav GUTGARTS, International Committee of the Red Cross, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tigrinya, being the largest language of the State of Eritrea, is also the most important of three working languages of the country. Moreover Tigrinya is the official language of Tigray Regional State of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, where it is spoken by even more people. It is impossible to tell now the precise or especially reliable total number of speakers of the language, but it can be estimated to be approximately 10 million. Although Tigrinya is one of the oldest and widely spoken languages in the Horn of Africa, its written tradition is relatively young. At present the Tigrinya orthography is at an intermediate stage of the standardization process; it is in transition. The unrestricted orthography, often stipulated by rich dialectology, regularities of colloquial language, Amharic influence and other factors, goes along with unrestricted orthoepy. Some attempts on the standardization were already made by Tigray Language Council founded in 1944 by Edward Ullendorff in Eritrea. Following the example of T.L.C. many years later, the foundation of an Academy of Amharic language was projected by Haile Selassie, and the Academy was founded in 1972. In 1979 the Academy was renamed as the Academy of Ethiopian Languages. The Academy has been responsible for the standardization and (socio-) linguistic description of the Ethiopian languages. Very recently the Tigray Languages Academy was founded. In spite of various activities in this field, the outcome is rather modest. As it is well known, orthographical standardization is the only tool enabling adequate compilation and use of dictionaries (whether it be electronic or paper ones) and grammars. A fixed orthography must be codified in normative dictionaries and grammars. Whether these dictionaries and grammars are created by private individuals or by state institutions, they become standard if they are treated as authorities for correcting language. A fixed written form and subsequent codification make the standard variety more stable than purely spoken varieties. This variety becomes the norm for writing, is used in broadcasting and for official purposes, and is the form taught to non-native learners. In the case of Tigrinya this is the goal of paramount importance, but it is yet to be achieved. This research focuses on the orthographic features of the Tigrinya language both in Tigray (Ethiopia) and Eritrea. It has been carried out by means of analysis, comparison and systematizing of the relevant fragments of the modern (and, in some extent, old) written Tigrinya texts. The written literature, the press and legal documents served as sources of data collection. The work consists of the following parts or chapters: introduction, order transitions, various transitions, interchangeability, other inconsistencies, diachronic changes. The case in question is solely orthographic (i.e. written) standardization; dialectical standardization should not be under consideration. The primary aim of the acquired data is to provide the adequate means for further standardization of the written Tigrinya language that will enable, above all, to create morphological analyzers which will help to properly develop and use electronic, digital and online dictionaries, translators, including automatic translators and translators by means of scanning. All of these tools are already available for the largest and the most developed languages of the world. Successful standardization of the written Tigrinya will eventually favor the development of many fields of social life of the language speakers: education, literature, mass media, business and many others. The author of this research is a lexicographer dealing with Tigrinya, and all the materials included in the research were obtained during a long-term lexicographic practice.