Field and river

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

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

ICES20 logo

Use the "back" button of your browser to return to the list of abstracts.



FEKEDE Menuta, Hawassa University, Ethiopia
Ronny MEYER, INALCO/LLACAN, Paris, France

Paper presenters:

EMEBET Bekele; DERIB Ado; FEDA Negesse; ZELEALEM Leyew; AWLACHEW Shumneka Nurga; Ronny MEYER;
NIGUSSIE Meshesha Mitike; MEQUANINT Wanna; FEKEDE Menuta; ALMAZ Wasse Gelagay;
Isabelle A. ZAUGG

In the multilingual and multicultural Ethiopian region, speakers with diverse linguistic, social, cultural, and historical experiences frequently interact with each other in various ways, which paradoxically may cause both, an increase in linguistic variation, and convergence between languages or dialects of a language as well.

This panel will investigate these two types of linguistic change in Ethiopian languages from various perspectives. We are particularly interested in unveiling peculiar factors or factor combinations that favor either variation or convergence, and on their specific impact on language use and form. Thus, this panel invites papers from various linguistic disciplines and related fields, including:

Especially welcome are papers dealing with the symbiotic relationship between form components in a language and socio-cultural/historical features of the speech community using it.



ANBESSA Teferra, Department of Hebrew Language and Semitic Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University, Israel

The Aim of this paper is to analyze the pre-1992 and post-1992 periods in the development of Sidaama orthography. Sidaama (self name: Sidaam-u ʔ afóo ʻtongue of Sidaamaʼ) is a Highland East Cushitic language (HEC) spoken in south-central Ethiopia. According to the 2007 census of Ethiopia, the number of Sidaama mother tongue speakers was 2,925,171 (CSA 2010: 200). The first instance of Sidaama orthography was the Gospel of Mark, which was translated by the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) using the Latin script and its publication in 1933 by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Nevertheless, an important period in the orthographic development was in the 1950s and on wards when various missionary churches were established in Sidaama land. One of them is the Comboni branch of the Roman Catholic Mission which was established in 1962. The missionaries translated the Gospels, prayers and various religious materials into Sidaama using the Ethiopic script. These religious publications were easily read and understood by educated Sidaamas because of the sound design of the orthography.The post 1974 period saw the use of Sidaama as one 15 languages selected to teach the uneducated population, in particular during the 1980s National Literacy Campaign using the Ethiopic script. However, this orthography was a catastrophic failure because of a faulty matching of the seven Ethiopic orders with that of Sidaama vowels.The most dynamic development in Sidaama Orthography was witnessed since 1992 when Sidaama became a language of primary education and administration based on a Latin script. Consequently, numerous literacy primers and various books were published. The lexicon was considerably expanded by the incorporation of neologisms and radio broadcasts began in earnest. Despite the tremendous success, the orthography still has some drawbacks. A faulty representation of ejectives, the inaccurate use of /ʔ/ and /ɗ/, the unwarranted insertion of i following y, etc. can be cited. Reform of the present script is long overdue and a plea for its modification seems to have fallen on deaf ears.



ETAFERAHU Hailu, PhD Candidate, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This research investigates language variants spoken by two almost unknown social groups in Gurage, namely the Fuga, a marginalized group of handcrafters, who today mainly produce clay utensils and items made of wood, and the Fedwet, another marginalized and almost vanished group of (almost exclusively female), originally followers of a local religious cult whose former adherents have now become Christians or Muslims. Although both groups are part of Gurage society and speak one of the “regular” Gurage languages, they also acquired group-specific variants, which are not understood by outsiders. In the case of the Fedwet, this is done during an initiation ritual in early puberty. But generally, nothing has so far been known about how these variants are learned, and how they differ from other Gurage languages. The presentation will describe the linguistic structure of the Fedwet and Fuga social variants, i.e. lexicon, phonology, morphology, and semantics, determine the linguistic position of Fedwet and Fuga within the Gurage cluster, i.e. whether these variants are an argot, dialect or language. The research also undertakes a sociolinguistic analysis and investigates how the speakers acquired Fedwet and Fuga, the function of the variants and how they affect the identity of the speakers within a multilingual setting, why Chaha speakers used these social variants instead of the core language. It seeks to explain the historical and current status of these ‘languages’ and also discusses the social, political and cultural position of Gurage women and of the low-caste Fuga group.



Klaus-Christian KÜSPERT, NMS Ethiopia

This presentation focusses on language endangerment of one of the “Mao languages” in Western Ethiopia. The ethnic, linguistic and social situation in the western part of Oromia Regional State is complicated and little research has been done. The Oromo language is the only official and clearly dominating language in the area, and it serves as a lingua franca, whilst none of the minority languages are officially recognised. This research aims to describe the level of endangerment of one of the Mao languages – often referred to as Hozo. This language has an estimated number of less than 6000 speakers, all of them living in ethnically mixed communities. None of the Mao languages in the area has a written script and they are solely used for private, oral communication; the transition to the younger generation seems uncertain. Thus, the UNESCO “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” classifies Hozo as definitely endangered. However, no thorough assessment of this language is yet carried out. Our assessment of endangerment uses the UNESCO criteria on Language vitality and endangerment that outlines nine factors for determining language vitality. These factors evaluate, amongst others, in which domains and by which groups the language is used, which materials exist in the language, which media and institutions use the language and the attitude of the speakers towards the language. Methods used are surveys done in all major settlements, documentation of the number of speakers and inter-relation with other languages, and qualitative interviews with speakers from different areas and of different ages and with a varied level of education and social positions. This research draws an accurate picture of the status of the Hozo language and thereby helps clarifying more about underlying causes of speech loss and language change, such as cultural, political and economic marginalization. The findings may help to develop appropriate measures for the preservation or revival of endangered languages in general.



EMEBET Bekele, Addis Ababa University, Linguistics, Ethiopia

The Gurage people are one of the fifty plus ethnolinguistic groups living in the SNNPRS, the most ethnolinguistically diverse region in Ethiopia. These people speak more than twelve language varieties known by the umbrella term “Guragigna”. In addition to their own linguistic diversity, a large proportion of these people are dispersed all over the country because of their active engagement in trade activities, resulting in a great language mix. Language proliferation coupled with issues of ethnolinguistic identity have caused problems for the Gurage people in benefiting from the national language and education policy, which embraces multilingualism. They have faced difficulties in language planning and development because any choice might result in conflicts of interest among speakers of different varieties, with issues of dominance and subordination. This study therefore aims to assess the different patterns of ethnolinguistic identity construction, language use preferences, and attitudes towards multilingualism among speakers of six systematically selected Gurage language varieties. The research framework is pragmatic, using mixed research methods to collect, organize and analyze data. Survey questionnaires and semi-structured in-depth interviews were employed to collect primary data. A total of 630 participants are included in this research. The data is organized for analyses using SPSS 20 for the quantitative aspect, and then augmented with the descriptive analyses of qualitative data from the interviews, organized under different themes in the study. Speakers of different Gurage language varieties demonstrate specific patterns in self-identification, attitudes towards using Amharic in everyday activities, language vitality, and significance of language in identity construction. They also have certain separatist groups who claim different historical origins and ethnic identities, reinforced by a number of sociopolitical factors besides linguistic variations.



DERIB Ado, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
FEDA Negesse, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
BAYE Yimam, Addis Ababa University
FEKEDE Menuta, Hawassa University
MOGES Yigezu, Addis Ababa University
Ronny MEYER, INALCO – Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales
Janne Bondi JOHANNESSEN, University of Oslo

In order to describe all aspects of a language, empirical sources are necessary. Individual interviews and various types of tests and questionnaires are valuable data, but sources that contain the language in actual use are indispensable. Corpora represent exactly this kind of data. For written languages, text corpora can be a valuable resource, but for languages and dialects that do not have a written standard, speech corpora (machine readable and searchable linguistic data) are required. The Norwegian NORHED project Linguistic Capacity Building – Tools for the Inclusive Development of Ethiopia, 2013–2019 – aims at producing orthographies and school material for some of the under-resourced languages of Ethiopia. So far the project researchers have developed five small speech corpora that have subsequently been put into the search system Glossa. These are presented below together with basic information:

• Amharic: 25500 words, 12 informants.
• Gumer: 19000 words, 14 informants.
• Hamar: 16900 words, 2 informants.
• Muher: 40500 words, 8 informants.
• Oromo:13350 words, 3 informants.

In addition, Gamo, Haddiya and Sidaama will be available in speech corpora soon, and more material will be added to the existing ones. All the corpora have been either audiotaped or videotaped. They have been transcribed into standard orthography, if any exists, or a modified IPA transcription, using ELAN (software for annotation) . Metadata for each recording include variables such as gender, age, language background, place etc. The recordings consist of interviews and conversations. The corpus search interface is Glossa (Johannessen et al. 2008, Kosek et al. 2015), which offers a search interface with three levels of complexity, including the possibility to search for beginning and end of words, beginning and end of segments, etc. The search can be filtered through the metadata, and can be done stepwise. The results are concordances and frequency lists, from where the concordance can be consulted, and audio and video files, which are time-aligned with the transcription. The corpora are freely available for the public and can also be installed on local machines.



ZELEALEM Leyew, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This paper mainly describes the glottonyms (language names) of Ethiopian languages. The findings show that most of the languages in native names appear with affixes. The widely attested affix is -V(f)f(V)/-V(f)f(V) derived from the word af 'mouth' through a grammaticalization process. In Gede’o-ffa (Gedeo language - Cushitic) and Hamar-affo (Hamer language - Omotic), it occurs as a suffix. The Silt'e, Zay and Kistane peoples name their languages as (yä)-Silt'e-af, (yä)-Zay-af and (yä)-kistane af, respectively, with the genitive prefix appearing optionally. There are traces in which the word af was used with language names in old Amharic. In languages such as afaan-Oromo (Oromo language - Cushitic) and ʔafaa-ʔa-χonsoʔ (Konso language - Cushitic), glottonyms are marked through prefixation. Whether or not the glottonym affix is an independent word as in Afar af (Afar language - Cushitic) or an affix as in Afar-af is yet to be determined. The Seezo people call their language seez-waani ‘mouth of Seezo’. In most Ethio-Semitic languages, the adjectivizer suffix -ɨɲɲa is attached to glottonyms. In Amharic, for instance, amar-ɨɲɲa 'Amharic' is a self name and Hadiyy-iɲɲa ‘Hadiyyissa’ (Cushitic), Bench-iɲɲa ‘Benchnon/Bench’ (Omotic) are given names. In all instances, glottonyms are inherently adjectives derived from ethnonyms that are inherently nouns. In few instances, affixes that express the other speech organ: tongue and teeth are recorded. The Nilo-Saharan languages t'wa-gwama ‘tongue of the Gwama people’ and t’a-po ‘tongue of the Opoo people’ are examples. The Northern Mao people (glottonym Màwés-Aas’è lit. ‘teeth of Mao man’) and the Harari people (glottonym: Gē-Sinān “teeth of Harari’) attach in their language names the grammaticalized affixes which originally referred to ‘teeth’. The Burji (Cushitic) and Murle (Nilo-Saharan) ethnic groups name their language in suppelative forms as daʃate and aloŋanch, respectively. The -tstso suffix as in Gamo-tstso, -non suffix as in Bench-non, -te suffix as in Koore-te and -sa suffix as in Oydi-sa are the other glottonym suffixes occurring in other Ethiopian languages. The occurrence of the grammaticalized forms mouth, tongue and teeth in glottonyms could be one of the areal features of Ethiopian languages compared to, for instance, the Niger-Congo noun-class marking languages. The data also prove that the formal and semantic relationships between glottonyms and ethnonyms (ethnic names) are too strong. The relationship with toponyms (place names) is also strong but with endonym (country names) loose. That the same language is designated by different names by missionaries, researchers and neighboring ethnic groups is a point of discussion in this paper. Whereas the most accepted glottonym is the name given by natives themselves, other glottonyms are considered as imposed and sometimes derogatory. The qualitative data and information are collected from my own field-notes and published and unpublished sources.



AWLACHEW Shumneka Nurga, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Social and linguistic contacts between speakers of diverse varieties as well as the influence of the surrounding Cushitic languages contributed to the establishment of Gurage dialects and widespread bi or multilingualism. However, the actual extent and the effects of language contact on individual languages in the Gurage Zone are not clearly known. Therefore, the main objective of this research is to investigate language contact and its effects on language use and form on Gurage varieties of Muher. Mixed research methods (questionnaire, interview, and participant observation) are used as research tools.The Muher community lives in the north-western part of the Gurage Zone. Its neighbours are Ezha in the west, Mesqan and Dobbi in the southeast, Wolane in the northeast, K’abeena in the northwest and Silt’e in the southeast. As a result, many of the Muher speakers are bilingual in one of these languages. The study focuses on the language behaviour of individuals belonging to Muher Gurage ethno-linguistic group residing in rural and urban settings, namely the rural areas of Teklehaimanot, Zəbbidar and the town of Hawarijat and Wolkite as zonal administration center.



Ronny MEYER, INALCO/LLACAN, Paris, France

Several Gurage varieties, which belong to Ethiosemitic, and the Cushitic languages K’abeena and Libido are spoken natively in the Gurage Zone. Although the two Cushitic languages represent linguistic minorities in the Gurage Zone, they have been reduced to writing and are used for primary education, and partly even administration and mass media, for some time. With the exception of Silt’e, which no longer belongs to the Gurage Zone, the results of ongoing language planning and standardization processes of Gurage varieties are rather meager. Despite ongoing efforts from Gurage intellectuals and administrators, as well as linguists involved in research on language standardization in Gurage, the implementation of a Gurage variety or several varieties as official language(s) at least in primary education is heavily impeded by political considerations, namely the fear of social unrest or separatism as an anticipated outcome of an “unwelcomed” language policy. The hypothesis that local political undecisiveness and fence-sitting hinders the implementation of a Gurage variety as official language in the Gurage Zone, will be outlined in this paper. First, I will summarize the findings of research on language standardization in Gurage and compare them with the results of linguistic capacity building efforts in the Gurage Zone. This comparison will show several options for the linguistic development of Gurage varieties as official languages in the Gurage Zone, which so far have all been neglected by the respective local political and administrative authorities.



NIGUSSIE Meshesha Mitike, Hawassa University, Ethiopia

It is known that Ethiopia is the land of diversity, and particularly the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) is a cultural mosaic, a linguistically diverse region of the nation comprising of 56 ethnic and language groups. The constitution of the government of Ethiopia (1995), Article Five gives all Ethiopian languages equal state recognition to develop and to use the languages for social, cultural and political purposes. In line with this, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Proclamation No.178/1999 and the Ethiopian Broadcasting Proclamation No. 553/2007, as well as the Access to Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation No. 590/2008 provide the legal grounds for practicing media freely for social, political and cultural ends, and also for democratic building in Ethiopia. Therefore, the present study has the objective to examine the media and language-use situation in the SNNPRS of Ethiopia with the intention of identifying the legal, cultural and language policy implications in addressing the linguistic, cultural, social and political rights of the people in Ethiopia. To this end, the study employs mixed research design, quantitative and qualitative methods, and uses both primary and secondary data sources. For data collection, both questionnaire and interview are used as instruments along with document analysis. The data was collected from South Omo zone by taking Jinka and Gazer towns where the zonal area is a place where linguistic variations are highly witnessed. For primary data collection, some town dwellers, students, teachers, lawyers, and journalists were included using random and purposive sampling methods. In data collection, 60 respondents were included for questionnaire and 12 key informants were included for interview. The constitution of Ethiopia (1995), media proclamations, and other sources are reviewed for document analysis. The study found that in spite of all the constitutional and media laws, background, and a fertile policy ground for most of the languages to develop and be used in media, the use of language in media still has far to go. Most of the languages do not have their own orthography or it is not very developed, they do not have sufficient written materials, and cannot become language of school, courts and media. In fact, the SNNPRS Government has started to offer mother tongue education in 28 languages and to broadcast 47 languages in media, but it can be argued that the efforts taken by the government have been challenged by the language's development level, human resources development, and the media infrastructure. Still, due to the higher linguistic variations and other related challenges, the language use situation in media of the SNNPRS is still far to reach and highly problematic. Finally, it is found out that there seems to be a good start in terms of legal policy and the usability of some of the languages in courts with direct or through translation and in schools, but still from media, cultural, and social perspectives, it is still far to go in using the languages for various social affairs.



MEQUANINT Wanna, Hawassa University, Ethiopia

Linguistic variations that are evident within Gamo language seem very complex, yet these incidents have not been given due attention by linguists except a few works by Hirut (2004, 2013a), and Wondimu (2010). As a result, the existence of language variations within Gamotstso has created a fertile land for various problems and conflicts which have been observed in some places of the region. Furthermore, no document is available that reveals the degree of closeness or divergence of each dialect of Gamotstso against the other. Therefore, the main purpose of this research was to determine to what extent a dialect of Gamotstso is closer to or distant from one another. Hence, the present study has addressed mutual intelligibility among eight dialects of Gamotstso: Doko, Dita, Dorze, Ochollo, C'hencha, K'uc'ha, Boreda and Ganta. In order to accomplish this, the study employed both functional and opinion testing using research instruments such as RTT, Levenshtein Distance, core vocabulary comparison, and interview. The study found that mutual intelligibility does really exist among seven of the dialects of Gamotstso, with the exception of Ganta dialect. Moreover, the current study discovered that Ganta is a divergent speech variety of Gamotstso. In addition to this, the study identified that one-way intelligibility (asymmetrical intelligibility) prevailed between Ganta and the rest of the dialects employed in the present research. It was also indicated that Gamo people in general do have favorable attitude towards their own dialect and to other dialects of Gamotstso.



FEKEDE Menuta, Hawassa University, Ethiopia

Since 1994, the grant of linguistic right to all nations and nationalities of Ethiopia to use their languages in all domains also paved the way to the choice and use of different script types. Now Ethiopia is not only multilingual, but also multi-script using country. There is a tendency for Cushitic and Omotic languages to use Latin script while the Semitic languages to maintain the preexisting Ethiopic (Sabean) script use tradition. Though the introduction of Latin script into the orthography of Ethiopian languages helped to handle some of the problems the Amharic writing system could not provide, such as representing gemination and length, it has a number of disadvantages both linguistic and sociological. The aim of this article was to provide an option for using a common script for all Ethiopian languages. To this end, the paper has provided the advantages and disadvantages of using Latin and Ethiopic scripts. It also offered the main problems in the Amharic orthography and the possible solution to them. The paper also provided ways of solving the ascribed gemination and length representing problems in using Ethiopic script. Four languages; namely, Gurage (Semitic), Konta (Omotic), Sidama (Cushitic), and Murle (Nilo-Saharan) were used as a sample for the study. Both the Latin and Ethiopic scripts use options were discussed for each of the languages. Sample scripts, written with both Latin and Ethiopic scripts were provided, and the observed advantages of each script type was discussed based on the sample scripts and principles of orthography development. It was found that Ethiopic script can be used to all Ethiopian languages without problem of representing gemination and length. It was also found that Ethiopic script is more economical than Latin script. The script inventory of Ethiopic can serve as a resource, with a few modification and adjustments, to fit into the linguistic needs of each Ethiopian language.



ALMAZ Wasse Gelagay, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This study looks at current efforts to develop and standardize disadvantaged Ethiopian languages, which have recently begun to be introduced into education and other social settings. Article 3.5.1 of the Federal Democratic Republic Government of Ethiopia’s Education and Training Policy (1994) granted citizens a legal right to use their native languages as a medium of primary education. This legal initiative resulted in the introduction of many indigenous languages into education and other official settings. The arrival of these languages into new domains has created opportunities to standardize them, with the effect of changing their social status. Gamo is one such language which, as a result of the policy changes, has acquired a standard orthography and been introduced as a medium of instruction in schools. This research seeks to investigate the sociolinguistic aspects of standardization in the Gamo language. It mainly focuses on norm selection and norm acceptance, exploring speakers’ attitudes to Gamo and their needs and expectations regarding the standardization of the language. The research argues that, as a language newly introduced into different social domains, Gamo has to be standardized to fulfill its newly assigned social roles. As part of the standardization endeavors, there is a pressing need to establish a standard language that suits the attitudes and demands of Gamo society. A standard Gamo language would effectively play various social and instrumental roles if users of the language participated in the standardization process as much as possible. So far, we do not have sufficient information about social attitudes and needs regarding the standardization of Gamo. The research therefore helps to fill an information gap on this issue by providing valuable data about the real attitudes and needs of speakers of the language at grassroots level.



Isabelle A. ZAUGG, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at Columbia University's Institute for Comparative Literature and Society

Addressing the theme of linguistic challenges and change within multilingual Ethiopia, this presentation looks at the interaction of Ethiopian languages with the global digital sphere. Digital technologies, due to their history as tools originally developed by and for English-based societies, have spread across the globe, but without completely abandoning their bias towards supporting English and other Latin-based languages. This has promoted the perception that the Latin alphabet is more “modern” than other writing systems. This view, while problematic, has helped to spur adoption of the Latin alphabet in many global locales. Furthermore, even in cases where the Latin alphabet is not embraced by policy, digital technology users of non-Latin-based languages, like Amharic, have been pushed by ease-of-use to use the Latin alphabet when communicating digitally. Within this presentation I will share some of the findings from my dissertation research entitled “Digitizing Ethiopic: Coding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction.” I will address the extent to which the Latin alphabet is still widely used by Amharic-language users online, despite progress in digital supports for Ethiopic. I will also present some of the potential reasons why Amharic-language users opt to communicate digitally using the Latin alphabet rather than the Ethiopic script. I will close with recommendations about the technological and policy supports that can help change this trend so that Amharic-speakers are able to use not only their own language but also their own script in the digital sphere. This presentation makes a case for the importance of considering communication technologies within the framework of language and cultural policy, since global technologies affect local language practices. It also proposes that rather than uncritically allowing global technologies to shape language and culture, it is better to design, shape, and localize technologies to serve the language and culture of their users.