Ethiopian Semitic languages

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Ethiopian Semitic (also Ethio-Semitic, Ethiosemitic, Ethiopic or Abyssinian[2]) is a family of languages spoken in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan. They form the western branch of the South Semitic languages, itself a sub-branch of Semitic, part of the Afroasiatic language family.

Ethiopian Semitic
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic

Amharic, the official working language of Federal Government of Ethiopia and Amhara Region, has about 62 million speakers (including second language speakers) and is the most widely spoken Ethiopian Semitic language. Tigrinya has 7 million speakers and is the most widely spoken language in Eritrea.[3][4] There is a small population of Tigre speakers in Sudan. The Ge'ez language has a literary history in its own Ge'ez script going back to the first century AD. It is no longer spoken but remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, as well as their respective Eastern Catholic counterparts.

The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967) and Lionel Bender (1997),[5] suggesting an origin in Ethiopia and others suggesting the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. A study based on a Bayesian model to estimate language change concluded that the latter viewpoint may be more probable.[6]

The modern Ethiopian Semitic languages all share subject–object–verb (SOV) word order as part of the Ethiopian language area, but Ge'ez had verb-subject-object (VSO) order in common with other Semitic languages.


The division into northern and southern branches was established by Cohen (1931) and Hetzron (1972) and garnered broad acceptance, but this classification has recently been challenged by Rainer Voigt.[7] Voigt rejects the classification that was put forward by Cohen and Hetzron, concluding that they are too closely related to be grouped separately into a north and south.[8]

Genealogy of the Semitic languages

Hudson (2013)Edit

Hudson (2013) recognises five primary branches of Ethiosemitic. His classification is below.[11]



  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ethiosemitic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Igor Mikhailovich Diakonov Semito-Hamitic Languages: An Essay in Classification - Google Books": Nauka, Central Department of Oriental Literature, (1965) pp 12
  3. ^ Woldemikael, Tekle M. (April 2003). "Language, Education, and Public Policy in Eritrea". African Studies Review. 46 (1): 117–136. doi:10.2307/1514983. JSTOR 1514983.
  4. ^ "Microsoft Word - Bilan96-06-Eâ¦" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  5. ^ Bender, L (1997), "Upside Down Afrasian", Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 50, pp. 19-34
  6. ^ Kitchen, Andrew, Christopher Ehret, et al. 2009. "Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276 no. 1665 (June 22)
  7. ^ "Rainer Voigt - North vs. South Ethiopian Semitic - Languages Of Africa - Syntactic Relationships". Scribd.
  8. ^ Voigt, Rainer. "North vs. South Ethiopian Semitic" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  9. ^ For its membership in North Ethiopic, see Wolf Leslau, "Ethiopic and South Arabian", in Linguistics in South West Asia and North Africa (The Hague, 1970), p. 467, and Alice Faber, "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages", in The Semitic Languages (Routledge, 2005), pp. 6–7.
  10. ^ "Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia - Article 5" (PDF). Federal Government of Ethiopia. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  11. ^ Hudson, Grover (2013). Northeast African Semitic: Lexical Comparisons and Analysis. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. p. 289.


  • Cohen, Marcel. 1931. Études d’éthiopien méridional. Paris.
  • Hetzron, Robert. 1972. Ethiopian Semitic: studies in classification. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Weninger, Stefan. Vom Altäthiopischen zu den neuäthiopischen Sprachen. Language Typology and Language Universals. Edited by Martin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wulf Oesterreicher, Wolfgang Raible, Vol. 2: 1762-1774. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.