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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LOU Kahssay, TCDSB

Ethiopia needs a comprehensive language reform, especially for Amharic and Tigirinya. After decades of neglect and mandatory use of English as the medium of instruction in the Ethiopian school system, Ethiopian languages are decimated to the point of almost becoming irrelevant for the complex communication needs of a modern society. Today, Tigirinya and Amharic need to reform to survive and serve the modern needs of their users, particularly in the areas of technology and communication. Hence, the overriding goal of a reform is grammatical and orthographic simplification, standardization, and codification of the languages and their orthographies to ensure effective communication. The existence of too many word derivatives, widespread spelling inconsistencies, and a large number of characters in the Ethiopic writing system means that only a small fraction of words in Ethio Semitic languages can ever be entered in any dictionary let alone to be ordered alphabetically. For example, the Amharic word ማጠብ (to wash) has three times more derivatives than the entire number of word entries in “Amharic-English Dictionary” by Amsalu Aklilu (1986). Due to the alphasyllabic script and the fusional nature of Ethio Semitic languages, it is difficult to maintain alphabetical order for the majority of word derivatives and inflections without reforming the orthography to some degree. Many Ethiopic dictionaries show words like ማቋረጫ (exit), ተቆራጭ (per diem), ተቋራጭ (contractor), and ኣቋራጭ (shortcut), for example, listed under the main entry word ቆረጠ (he cut), rendering the alphabetical order useless. Moreover, Ethiopic dictionaries list all verb entries only in the third-person-singular-male (3PSM) past-tense form of the verb—just one of the thousands of derivatives any verb can have. Such lexicographical problems are reflective of the nation’s challenges in the areas of language and communication with adverse consequences to society. The solution, I propose, is a reform of the Ethiopic writing system.