Monday, August 19, 2013

Language Profile: Amharic

This week's language profile is on Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Amharic is the second most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic.

Amharic nouns, like those of many languages, can have either masculine or feminine gender. In many cases, the suffixes -t and -it mark the femininity of Amharic nouns. The language also has a handy suffix for creating plurals, written -očč.

Haile Selassie I, former Emperor of Ethiopia
In terms of writing systems, Amharic is written using an abugida based on the Ge'ez script. In fact, the word abugida itself originated from the Amharic name for the script, which combines its first four letters: ä, bu, gi, and da. Each character in the script represents a consonant and vowel combination.

Another interesting term that originated in Amharic is Rastafari. Ras is a noble title similar to "duke", while Tafari was the name of Haile Selassie I before he became Emperor of Ethiopia in the 1930s.

Despite the common misconception that the Rastafari movement is all about braided hair and smoking pot, it is actually an interesting spiritual movement that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s. People who belong to the movement believe that the aforementioned Haile Selassie I was the second coming of Jesus. Many learn Amharic as a second language, as Ethiopia is seen as the promised land, or a kind of heaven on Earth. The language is also occasionally used in reggae songs, which have been used in the past by artists such as Bob Marley to spread the word about the movement worldwide.