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Languages and Cultures
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Geez is the root language for the three related languages Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre. How did these three evolve from Ge'ez? What preceded Geez? What is their relation to ancient Hebrew? What is the language of the Falasha people who are genetically Hebrew Ethiopians?
You are right that Tigre, Tigrinya and Amharic are all descended from the earlier language Ge`ez. The descent is not a linear one-to-one relationship, however, as one might think.
The three major forms we now refer to are "sister" languages, all jointly developing from the one language in parallel. I am not fluent in these languages, but from my experience and comparative study, it appears that Tigre is closer to Tigrinya than to Amharic, which makes sense given the cultural and geographical contact over the centuries.
Ge`ez is one of several languages in the Semitic group. It is more distant from the others, like Arabic and Aramaic than some of the others are to each other. Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew are very similar. Of course, there are over 30 languages of Arabic today, and many of them are not mutually intelligible with each other.
Historical and Comparative linguists make it their business to gather, analyze and compare available written or oral forms of current and historical languages. This provides a consistent pattern to indicate how the languages are related. This indicates the relationship between various current languages, the older forms of these languages and finally the possible form of languages in which any known records exist. This branch of linguistics is a specialized science. Specialists in each language are involved in this process.
When these languages are all compared in grammar and vocabulary, along with the oral traditions and other historical indicators, it is clear that these all developed, as did all other human languages, from an even earlier form of speech for which we have no written testimony. Phonetic patterns discerned in all human languages, and the specific patterns of these related languages, can indicate the forms of vocabulary and grammar a predecessor language might have had.
Such reconstructed proposed forms to account for all the current related forms are referred to as Proto-language. Thus the common term for all these related Semitic languages is Proto-Semitic. Changes occur constantly in human languages. Much of this is simply because of the learning process.
Every child and generation learns the language of the parent and previous generation. The learning always introduces minor differences. Every person and every child learns the language a little bit "imperfectly." Usually differences are so minor, we don't even think about them and they don't usually hinder communication. The change from what is recorded in ancient texts as Ge'ez into what is now known as Amharic, Tigrinya and other related languages, occurred very gradually, but very early. Specialists report that "the earliest written example of Tigrinya is a text of local laws found in the district of Logosarda, southern Eritrea, which dates from the 13th century" ["Tigrinya," Wikipedia].
Every individual speaks somewhat differently. The speech of each generation changes. Some languages change faster than others. Some events cause any language to change faster at some times. Change is gradual. (Many other articles on this website deal with language change and language learning.)
Over a long period of centuries a language can change so much that the speakers cannot understand the older forms of the languages. Like in English, it is almost impossible for a modern speaker of a dialect of English to read and understand the stories of Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote in the 1300s. It takes special training even to read the plays of Shakespeare or the King James Bible from the 1500s and 1600s. The same occurred in the Semitic languages like Ge'ez. The English of the 800s has to be translated totally as a foreign language.
The relationships between the Semitic languages is well established in various literature. You can do some checking under Comparative Linguistics, Semitic, or Historical Linguistics for these details. For a quick authoritative reference, you should refer to the Ethnologue, the World authority on languages of the World.
The Ethnologue presents a genetic relationship in description, in list and in tree form. The codeset developed by the Ethnologue is the official the ISO standard codeset referencing the 6,909 living languages of the world, plus important extinct languages like Ge'ez.
Early Hebrew Practices
Among the Ethiopic peoples we find Semitic characteristics that are similar to the old Hebrew and even the later Jewish practices. It is thought these are at least in part inherited from the old common culture from before the time when the Ethiopic peoples moved from southern Arabic onto the African mainland.
Genetically, of course, as well as culturally, the various peoples that live in the area now known as Ethiopia and Eritrea are very mixed. The Horn of Africa has long been a passage point of migration from Africa to Asia, as witnessed by recent extensive DNA comparison across the human race.
This region has been a center of human migration from pre-history, which previous archaeology tells us, as well as recent comparative DNA studies. Human populations have crossed and recrossed this narrow passage from Africa to Asia since the first humans crossed over from Africa to populate the rest of the world.
In the Horn of Africa, there is a strong base of Cushitic stock that was absorbed by dominant groups represented by the current Amhara and Tigrinya. The early Cushitic peoples are now represented primarily in the Beja cluster. The Tigre are somewhat related, but the Tigre and Beja peoples are also greatly mixed with various Arab strains from the Jaaliya and direct lines from Aden (now Yemen). The Islamic cultures are influenced culturally and genetically by the Yemeni Arab-Cushite genetic strain from the Yemeni missionary movements in the 1700s and 1800s.
It is in this crux of culture and language that the Falasha, or Beta Israel people fit. They originally spoke a dialect of the language called Qimant, in the Western group of Cushitic languages. This language is almost extinct now. In recent years, the Falasha have come to speak mostly Tigrinya. Those who migrated to Israel have proceeded to learn modern Hebrew, as with other immigrant peoples in Israel.
There is much of interest to challenge our understanding the complex culture and language map of the Horn of Africa. Further to this topic, a reader named Harley Pennington wrote to contribute these comments:
I've been learning to speak Tigrigna for about 10 years. During that Ive also been studying the cultures and history. The Ethiopian Coptic maintain a diet that is almost Kosher. ... the differences between the Tigray Tigrigna people and the Eritrean Tigrigna people. The primary difference being the subjugation of the Eritreans under the Italian colonialists that the Tigrayans were not subjected to. ... There has been two competing lines of royalty the Amhara and the Tigray. Both peoples call themselves Habisha which comes from the Arabic meaning mixed. If you know Habisha people they look distinctively different from the rest of Africans who they call Baria loosely meaning slave.(Video) Similarities Between Amharic and Assyrian Aramaic
Amhara Cultural Profile
Beja Cultural Profile
Tigre, Tigrinya, Tigray Ethnicities, Languages and Politics
Also related on the Internet
The Falasha: Beta Israel Wikipedia
"Ge'ez Script," Wikipedia
Semitic Languages the Ethnologue
Western Cushitic languages Ethnologue.
First written in an answer to email query 14 March 2007.
Finalized as an article and posted 24 January 2009
Last revised 11 April 2012
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.
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Amharic came to be lingua franca or widely spoken in Ethiopia from 9th century and became instrument of the state language since 14th century. Amharic has a growing body of literature especially since the advent of the 20th century. Christian religion texts dominated the previous centuries.
Tigrinya is part of the Ethiopic branch of the Semitic languages, a group that also includes Arabic, Maltese, and Hebrew among others. Tigrinya originates from the ancient language of Ge'ez which is believed to be the common ancestor of modern Ethiopian Semitic languages.
When Ethiopia officially annexed Eritrea in 1962, Amharic also formally replaced Tigrinya and Arabic; and was established as an official language by the imperial government of Ethiopia. In 1993, when Eritrea officially declared its independence through referendum.
Amharic and Tigrinya are the main languages spoken by the Ethiopians and Eritreans, of Eastern Africa. The reason we've grouped these two languages together is that they are strongly intertwined, both deriving from the same ancestor and both sharing characters in their alphabet.
Tigrinya is spoken by about 7 million people around the world. It is a widely spoken language in Eritrea and in the northern part of Ethiopia. In Eritrea it is a working language in offices along with Arabic.
Amharic is the government's official language and a widely used lingua franca, but as of 2007, only 29% of the population reported speaking Amharic as their main language. Oromo is spoken by over a third of the population as their main language and is the most widely spoken primary language in Ethiopia.
Tigrayans (Tigrinya: ተጋሩ) are Semitic-speaking ethnic group indigenous to the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia. They speak the Tigrinya language, an Afroasiatic language belonging to the Ethiopian Semitic branch. The daily life of Tigrayans is highly influenced by religious concepts.
Tigray, also spelled Tegray, Tigrai, or Tigre, historical region, northern Ethiopia. Its western part rises in high-plateau country where elevations generally range between 5,000 and 11,000 feet (1,500 and 3,300 metres).
|Native speakers||1 million|
|Language family||Afro-Asiatic Semitic West Semitic South Semitic Ethiopic North Ethiopic Ge'ez Tigre|
|Writing system||Tigre alphabet (Geʽez script), Arabic script|
Tigray, also spelled Tigrai or Tegray, also called (in Eritrea) Tigrinya, people of central Eritrea and of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. The Tigray speak Tigrinya, a Semitic language related to Geʿez and to Tigré, the language of a separate people (the Tigre) inhabiting northwestern Eritrea.
It existed from approximately 100–940 AD, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age period c. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD.
Tigrigna Lesson 1 - Greetings - YouTube
From what I have observed and read in related material in the field setting, the name "Tigray" is the Tigrinya word for the people in Ethiopia, whereas the Amharic form of the same name is "Tigre." This difference in the forms of the name are found in comparing the fidel spellings, as well as noting sources of the ...
The study has shown that both Tigrigna varieties have almost equal phonetic and lexical distances from Amharic. The study also indicated that Amharic speakers understand less than 50% of the two varieties.
Tigrinya (Tigrinya, Tigray, Tigriññā, ትግርኛ) is a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is closely related to Amharic,Tigré and Ge'ez, an extinct language that is still used in religious practice. It is distantly related to Arabic and Hebrew.
The history of Amharic language traces back to the 1st millennium B.C. to the days of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Historians explain that immigrants from southwestern Arabia crossed the Red Sea into present-day Eritrea and mixed with the Cushitic population.
The Adamic language, according to Jewish tradition (as recorded in the midrashim) and some Christians, is the language spoken by Adam (and possibly Eve) in the Garden of Eden.
Linguistically, of course, Amharic and Hebrew are not as closely related as Arabic and Hebrew. Indeed, probably only about half of Amharic' s structure can be considered as fully Semitic (Ullendorff 1965:10 and elsewhere).
Amharic is a Semitic language, like Arabic, and it has a similar structure of consonantal roots, with prefixes, suffixes, and inserted vowels that create the meaning. But other than this basic structure it is not even close to be mutually intelligible.