What Countries Speak Amharic?

June 14, 2023

Amharic is a Semitic language and the national language of Ethiopia. It also serves as a lingua franca in most major cities and towns of the country. There are currently estimated to be 25 million Amharic speakers worldwide according to Ethnologue. This includes the native population in Ethiopia & Eritrea as well as emigrants across the world.

The Amharic alphabet or Ge'ez script as it is sometimes called, is a unique Semitic syllabary of 33 primary letters with six variations in form to represent different vowels. It is also a member of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. Like any Semitic language, Amharic is agglutinative and uses a complex grammatical system. There are many dialects of Amharic, the three biggest being Showa, Gondar and Gojjami. These have some differences in vocabularies and pronunciations, but most of them are mutually intelligible.

A large amount of literature exists in Amharic spanning many genres. This includes government proclamations and records, educational books, religious writings including the Bible (first translated into Amharic in the nineteenth century by Abu Rumi among other modern translations) to novels, poetry and proverb collections. It is also used for technical and medical texts.

As a foreigner, it can be difficult to learn to read and write in Amharic as there are around 250 letters and a complicated grammar. However, it is worth learning at least the basics as this will make your life easier in Ethiopia especially if you want to try some of the local cuisine such as Injera or ask where the bus stop is. For those interested in learning Amharic, there are a number of resources online and at PROJECT-E. Our staff and students are happy to help with any questions or difficulties you might have.


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