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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Ronny MEYER, INALCO/LLACAN, Paris, France

Paper presenters:

ABINET Sime Gebreyes; LOU Kahssay; ABATE Kassahun



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.



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.



ABATE Kassahun, Mekelle University, Ethiopia

This study looks into trends in Tigrinya punctuation, which, in large part, is Ethiopic but has adopted several marks as some Ethiopic marks ceased to be used, while others continue to have restricted functions. In so doing, it assesses the challenges and differences in using punctuation marks in Tigrinya. For this purpose, ten Tigrinya published materials (textbooks, books, newspapers, and proceedings) had been selected purposefully, and a text analysis has been employed in an attempt to identify the names, number, use as well as possible trends. A critical look into the selected materials shows a continued use of both Ethiopic and English punctuation as well as an influence of the latter over the years. Though the Ethiopic marks are often aligned with similar ones in English, such correspondence often leads to needless usage and/or inappropriate use owing to differences in versatility of the pair of marks and the languages, in general. Problems that are attributed to lack of knowledge and guidelines for punctuation include inconsistency within and across texts, misuse, disuse, and underuse of marks. Such problems are coupled with and/or made worse by renewed desire to use Ethiopic marks in the face of the influence of Western practices as well as current trends in writing such as text messaging. Given the importance of this orthographic aspect in structuring and fully understanding written language as well as the prevailing problems, it is imperative to specify the marks to be used along with their functions and roles and take measures to diffuse such knowledge in all levels of education.