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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ABINET Sime Gebreyes, Mekelle University, Ethiopia

The syllabic-orthography of Amharic (SOA) interferes not only with the traditional description of the structure and the counting of syllabus, but also with the modern phonetic-phonemic transcription and the phonemic-allophonic inventory of Amharic consonants. This study looks into these problems. In the SOA, both a geminate (ፍንጭት fən.čət) and a non-geminate (ስርጭት sə.rəč.ət) consonant is represented by a single symbol. Moreover, the sixth order sadəs fidäl could be either syllabic (ብቅል bə.qəl) or non syllabic (ጥቅስ țəqs). Among the 40 or so labio-and palato-consonants, the phonemic inventory of Amharic recognizes only the three labio-velars (and occasionally one more labio-glottal, ኍ [hw]). The SOA has symbols for the four labios in five of the vowel orders (ä, i, a, e, ǝ). Here too, the sixth order could be non-syllabic (ጸጕሯ ṣagw.rwa, መኵሪያ, makw .rya, ተኵላ tä or syllabic (ጥቍር ṭə.qwər, ጸጕር ṣä.gwər). The other labios that are followed by the fourth order vowel are represented by special symbols (such as ሏ lwa, ሟ mwa, ሷ swa, ሿ šwa). However, there are non-syllabic labios with no special symbols, such as šw and mw (as in መሹለክ mäšw.lak and መሙላት mä Except for the ፘ (for rya) as in መኵፘ makw rya), the SOA has got no symbols for the palatos (palato-bilabials/alveolars/palatals/velars/glottals) followed by the fourth order vowel (e.g. ሚያ mya, ሪያ rya, ጪያ čya, ኪያ kya, ሂያ hya). The two-lettered (fidäl) representation of palatos in the SOA appears to interfere even with the modern transcription of a number of words in the bilingual dictionaries of Leslau (1976), Amsalu (1987) and Kane (1990). In these works, for instance, ትቢያ [təb.bya], a bi-syllabic word is wrongly transcribed as a tri-syllabic one, [tə]; ሚያዚያ [mya.zya], as mi.ya. zi.ya. The traditional counting of syllables (which entirely depends on the orthography) fails to recognize the syllable-structure of rhyming words. In the rhyming words of ነበርኩ nab.bä rkw and ሰበርኩ säb.bärkw, for instance -ኩ [-ku] would wrongly be identified as the rhyming syllable. Labios and palatos may also create confusions in the counting of syllables (መኩሪያ mäkw.rya could be wrongly considered as a word with four syllables, mä.ku.ri.ya). Moreover, at word-boundaries where one encounters the non-permissible clusters of three consonants and two vowels, the total number of syllables could be raised or reduced by one as in አራት ሰው ሞቶ a.ratt.säw moto >a.rat.tə. säw. where 2+1 becomes 4; and አንቺን ክፉ አይንካሽ an.čin.kə.fu.ay.yen.kaš > an.čin.kə.fway.yen.kaš where 2+3 becomes 4. For both linguistic and poetic syllables, an all-rounded phonetic-phonemic transcription that recognizes the presence of labios and palatos is recommended as a solution to the majority of the problems identified in the study.