What Languages Are Spoken In Ethiopia?

The landscape of Ethiopia.
The landscape of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has more than 80 languages spoken within the country and they include official languages, foreign languages, and other native languages. Oromo and Amharic are the two principal languages spoken in the country.

A Brief Overview Of The Languages Spoken In Ethiopia

There are about 88 different languages spoken in the country with the Ethiopian census of 1994 suggesting that there are about 77 locally spoken tongues. A huge percentage of the languages spoken in the country belong to the Afroasiatic family which comprises of Cushitic and Semitic languages. Even though their classification is uncertain, Omotic languages are also spoken. Besides, the Nilotic peoples who are a minority ethnic group in Ethiopia speak Nilo-Saharan languages. Of the 88 languages in the country, two are extinct while 86 are still living. Of the remaining 86 languages, five are almost extinct, eight are in danger of extinction, 14 are developing, 18 are vigorous, and 41 are institutional. In Ethiopia, English which is the medium of instruction in universities and secondary schools is the most widely spoken of the foreign languages. Initially, Amharic was the medium of instructions in primary schools, but that changed in many regions within the country and has so far been replaced by other local languages such as Tigrinya and Oromo.

The Most Widely Spoken Languages Of Ethiopia

According to the Ethiopian census of 2007, the first languages and the largest are the Oromo with about 24,930,424 of the population speaking the language which is equivalent to 33.8% and the Amharic with 21,634,396 users which is equivalent to 29.3% of the country’s population. Other widely spoken languages in Ethiopia include Somali with 4,609,274 of the total population which is equivalent to 6.25%, Tigrinya with 4,324,476 equivalent to 5.86%, Sidamo with 2,981,471 equivalent to 4.84%, Wolaytta with 1,627,784 equivalent to 2.21%, Gurage with 1,481,783 equivalent to 2.01%, and Afar with 1,281,278 equivalent to 1.74%. Amharic is the second most spoken language in Ethiopia, and it is the official language in which all federal laws are published.

The Endangered Languages Of Ethiopia

Languages, such as Mesmes, Gafat, and Weyto are victims of language death. Many of the languages have not been spoken in two generations making them prone to extinction. The Ongota language is the next in line at the brink of extinction. Language death is attributed to complex factors which are not as easy to determine or predict. Therefore, it is almost impossible to pinpoint which language exactly is most prone to go extinct. With the assumption that a language in Ethiopia with less than 10,000 speakers is most likely to become extinct or endangered, about 22 languages are on the list as endangered. However, the exact number of languages either facing extinction or endangered may be low or high.

Conservation Of Ethiopian Languages

Following the fall of the Derg in 1991, the Ethiopian Constitution of 1995 allowed all ethnic groups within the country the right to establish first language primary education systems and develop their various languages. The decision marked a change to language policies put in place by the country's previous governments. The Ge'ez script is the principal orthography used in Ethiopia in regards to writing systems. Despite other methods of writing being used by different communities in the country over the years, Ge'ez is the current liturgical language of both the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo and the Ethiopian Churches.


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