Ethiopia: Amharic On Its Way to Becoming a Pan-African Language

A teacher helps a child while reading a book at Ecole Primaire Kimisange (file photo).

Amharic has been the official working language of Ethiopia, the language of the courts, the language of trade and everyday communications and of the military since the late 12th century. The language serves as the official working language of the Ethiopian federal government and is also the official or working language of several of Ethiopia's federal regions.

Having served for centuries as a medium of communication for government, church education and society, the Amharic language is now vying to go beyond being the lingua franca of Ethiopia, on its way to becoming a Pan-African Language.

The Nigerien film writer and linguist, Rahmatou Keita has been propounding the idea of promoting the endorsement of Amharic language as one of the working languages of the African Union.

By now the continental bloc is using English, French, Arabic, Swahili, and Portuguese as its working languages. Swahili is typically an indigenous African language used in many eastern, southern and central African countries. Arabic has also been in use in many parts of the continent for centuries and is also a mother tongue as well as lingua-franca. The remaining languages were adopted during colonial periods. Therefore, empowering more indigenous African languages would be more appealing and effective for the overall continental progress and transformation.

There are many indigenous languages in Africa with millions of speakers as native or second languages. Among them, Amharic stands next only to Arabic in the number of speakers. Amharic is now being used by diverse communities across the world. Most notably Ethiopian diaspora community that are estimated at over 5 million use it in their respective countries of residence.

Ethiopian Jews who live in Israel also use Amharic in their daily communication. Furthermore, Amharic is endorsed as one of the official languages in the US capital, Washington DC. Apart from being a means of communication, Amharic is also studied and taught in universities abroad like Russia, China, Germany and Check Republic. It is also considered a holy language among the followers of Rastafarianism.

The language has also played its role in bringing together Ethiopians from all corners and cemented their strength. The unity and strength of the people showed its impact when the people who had their respective ethnic languages synergized themselves and thwarted the threat of colonialism at the battle of Adwa.

If they didn't unite under their native vehicular language, and fend off the threat of colonialism, the local vehicular language would have been undermined.

Language is a tool that contributes greatly to the civilization of a society. Indigenous knowledge, wisdom historical values etc are embedded within the language.

Therefore, promoting more local languages as lingua franca and vehicular languages within the continent would help the development and promotion of the rich heritage of indigenous and traditional knowledge among the society.

"Africans are now using the languages of colonial rulers notably English, French, Portuguese and we do not make use of and develop our indigenous languages such as Amharic. on the other hand, apart from East Africa Amharic is widely used in various parts of the world including the US, Israel and South Africa" says Rahmatou explaining her motive for promoting Amharic to be adopted as one of the working languages of the African Union.

The inspiration that is brewed in the heart of the Nigerien film writer, Rahmatouis of big implication for many Ethiopians and Africans. It is undeniable that the heroic African freedom fighters who ultimately liberated their nations had their inspiration from the victory at Adwa. The news of the victory was heralded to the world via the languages of the colonialists. Yet the poor Africans were still under the yoke of the colonial masters. To what extent the message, the genuine feelings of the Ethiopian fighters was transferred to the fellow Africans is still a question. No matter how the Africans shared their feelings in the real sense in the past, it is better to think and plan for the future. The people now need to break the colonial borders that have blocked them from trading with each other, intermingling in social activities, enjoying one another's cultural and artistic events, and sharing indigenous traditional knowledge that could be applied in medicine, agriculture, etc.

To do this, the future generation should be allowed to learn and exchange each other's linguistic and cultural features.

At the moment African Union and related organs are working on speeding up the integration of the continent's economy by facilitating the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This is a pivotal step in creating a favourable environment where the diverse people of the continent can freely and frequently meet up to exchange not only commercial items but also their cultural and linguistic assets.

Hence in this regard, two things need to be given due attention so that the overall integration of the continent that is spearheading through the economic or common market sector can be effective in the long run. One is the need to put in place physical infrastructure that connects people in various corners and regions of the continent. As Africa is still lingering under poor infrastructure connectivity issues it is necessary to put in place modern and affordable transport and communication networks.

Along with this comes the second but very important topic, promoting pan-African languages. Indigenous languages serve as not only a means of communication between speakers of different languages but also help build self-esteem and cultural awareness among the diverse people of the continent.

As already initiated by Rahmatouand is being supported by the government and famous personalities of Ethiopia and other African States, need to continue the work of uplifting such prominent African languages to reap the multiple benefits.

Editor's Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald

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