Tigrinya, Tigre, and Standard Arabic are the three official languages spoken in the African country of Eritrea. These languages dominate the national levels and commerce businesses. To encourage the development of the native Eritrean languages, primary school children up to grade five are taught in their mother tongues. Tigrinya and Arabic became official languages of Eritrea under the British administration. Even though English is not widely used, it is slowly developing as a foreign language of choice particularly as it makes up part of the secondary school curriculum. In Eritrea, all elementary schools use the local language.
Most Popular Languages In Eritrea
Since more than 80% speaks Tigrinya, Tigre, and Arabic, the three tongues have become the national languages. Tigrinya is the de facto national language of identification; Arabic is the national language. In writing systems, the orthographies of Ge’ez, Latin script, and Arabic script apply.
Tigrinya language is an Ethiopian Semitic language spoken by about 70% of Eritreans. The Tigrinya people make up about 55% of Eritrean population. People speaking the dialect are referred to as Biher-Tigrinya. Predominant areas speaking the tongue are Asmara, the capital city, Mendefera, Adi Quala, Dekemhare, and Senafe. The cities of Keren and Massawa also have significant Bihre-Tigrinya speakers. Another group of people speaking the dialect are the Jerbeti, Muslims living in the highlands. The people account for about 10% of the Tigrinya-speaking population. The language derives from Ge’ez an ancient tongue which exists only in the Orthodox Church today. The old script has more than 200 characters of different sounds. The language has its alphabets ba, be, bi, bo, bu, mutants of the English characters. Like English, Tigrinya is written and read in the left-right direction. 32 sets of Tigrinya alphabets exist. In Tigrinya, words are written and read in a similar manner. For example, Pasta is pronounced pasta. Among the English words, Computer is Komputer, the telephone is telefon, and post is posta.
Tigre language is spoken by the Tigre people living in the western lowlands of Eritrea. Like Tigrinya, Tigre dialect is a South Semitic tongue hailing from the ancient dialect called Ge’ez. As of 2006, 1.05 million Eritrean spoke Tigre. A noun is either famine or masculine in Tigre. For example, uoro is masculine, and hatte is feminine; uoro ennas means a man while hatte sit means a woman. The definite article “the” is expressed as La. Sound changes also mark the difference between plural and singular. For example, Negus means king and negüs-kings. The personal pronoun “you, he, she, and they" also exists as either male or female. For example, enta means you in singular masculine and enti is you in the singular feminine. In writing system, Ge’ez script is used as a basis, but the Muslims use the Arabic alphabets. In Ge’ez each character represents a consonant+vowel combination.
Arabic in Eritrea exists as Standard Arabic spoken widely by the Rashaida. The Arabic traders introduced Arabic in Eritrea during the establishment of trade routes. Arabic spread widely from the eighth century AD such that the Portuguese had to bring an Arabic interpreter so that they communicate with Eritreans in 1550. Later on, when the Italians colonized Eritrea in 1890, they used Arabic publications and local translators to communicate with the people. From 1942-1952, Arabic flourished with the establishment of Arabic schools and press. Today Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools and used at home. About 100,000 Eritreans speak Sudanese Arabic and 23, 000 speak Hejazi Arabic, the Arabic of Saudi Arabia.
Other Languages Spoken In Eritrea
The Saho dialect belongs to the Cushitic group of languages in Eritrea. Most of the speakers live in the central parts of the country with Arafali Bay to the East, Laasi Ghede valley to the south, the highlands of Eritrea lie to the west. The Tigre speakers also are to the west and in the east is Afar, a close relative dialect. The Saho language has four main dialects: Irob, Assaorta, Toroa, and Minifero. In Eritrea, more than 200,000 speak Saho.
Afar is a Lowland East Cushitic dialect spoken in Eritrea. Like all East Cushitic languages, the basic word order of Afar is the “Subject Object Verb.” Beja is an Afro-Asiatic language also spoken in Eritrea. Blin language is the only Central Cushitic language spoken in the country by 70,000 Eritreans living in Central Eritrea.
Another language spoken in Eritrea is Dahlik. Dahlik tongue has 2,500–3,000 speakers living in the Dahlak Archipelago.
The Nilo-Saharan language of Kunama is spoken by the Kunama people residing in the Eritrean-Ethiopian border. Approximately 80,000 Eritreans living in western Eritrea speak Nara, another Nilo-Saharan Language. Nara is on the verge if disappearing.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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