Ethiopian Semitic languages

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Ethiopian Semitic
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic
  • Ge'ez
  • South Ethiopic and North Ethiopic

Ethiopian Semitic (also known as Ethiosemitic, Ethiopic and Abyssinian[2]) is a group of languages spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea, with a small population of Tigre speakers in Sudan. Together with the Razihi language of Old South Arabian, they form the Western South Semitic languages, which, together with Modern South Arabian, the Eastern branch, they form the South Semitic sub-branch of the Afroasiatic family's Semitic branch.

Amharic, the official working language in Ethiopia, has ~62 million speakers (including second language speakers) and is the most widely spoken in the group. Tigrinya has 7 million speakers and is the most widely spoken language in Eritrea.[3][4]

While focused on Semitic languages as the only branch of the broader Afroasiatic family that is distributed outside Africa, a recent study by Kitchen et al. proposed through the use of Bayesian computational phylogenetic techniques that "contemporary Ethiosemitic languages of Africa reflect a single introduction of early Ethiosemitic from southern Arabia approximately 2800 years ago", and that this single introduction of Ethiosemitic underwent "rapid diversification" within Ethiopia and Eritrea.[5]

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 as is common with 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 Dr. Rainer Voigt.[6] 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.[7]


Genealogy of the Semitic languages
  • North Ethiopic
** Tigrinya


  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. ^
  5. ^ [1] Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Semitic languages identifies an Early Bronze Age origin of Semitic in the Near East.
  6. ^ "Rainer Voigt - North vs. South Ethiopian Semitic - Languages Of Africa - Syntactic Relationships". Scribd.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia - Article 5" (PDF). Federal Government of Ethiopia. Retrieved 31 January 2018.


  • 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.