Essentials of Amharic, by

Anbessa Teferra & Grover Hudson

Published by Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Köln, 2008

 

Contents

 

Preface  9

 

List of abbreviations  10

 

PART 1. History and Society

 

1.  People and territory  11

1.2.  Other Ethiopian languages  11

1.3.  The linguistic classification of Amharic  14

1.3.1.  Semitic  14

1.3.2.  Afroasiatic  19

1.3.3.  Ethiopian Semitic  19

1.4.  Bilingualism in Ethiopia  22

1.5.  Ethiopian national language policy  23

1.6.  Amharic literature  24

1.7.  Books for learning Amharic  25

1.8.  References for §1  27

 

PART 2.  Grammar

 

2.  Amharic sounds  29

2.1.  Consonants  29

2.1.1.  Consonant variants  30

2.1.2.  Labiovelar consonants  31

2.1.3.  y and w insertion  31

2.1.4.  y replacement  32

2.1.5.  Long consonants  32

2.1.6.  Palatalization  32

2.1.7.  Labialization  33

2.2.  Vowels  34

2.2.1.  Vowel variants  34

2.2.2.  Vowel elision  35

2.2.3.  Vowel insertion  35

2.2.4.  Vowel replacement  35

2.2.5.  Voiceless vowel  35

2.3.  Stress  35

2.4.  Structure of words  36

2.5.  Writing Amharic in European alphabets  37

 

3.  Amharic words  39

3.1.  Pronouns  39

3.1.1.  Independent pronouns  39

3.1.2.  Noun-possessive suffix pronouns  40

3.1.3.  Verb-object suffix pronouns  41

3.1.4.  Reflexive emphatic pronouns  42

3.1.5.  Interrogative pronouns  42

3.2.  Nouns  42

3.2.1.  Masculine and feminine nouns  42

3.2.2.  Definite nouns  43

3.2.3.  Indefinite article  43

3.2.4.  Noun plural suffix  43

3.2.5.  Possessive  43

3.2.6.  Definite object suffix  44

3.2.7.  Contrast / topic suffix  44

3.2.8.  Nouns derived from verbs  45

3.2.8.1.  Verbal noun / infinitive  45

3.2.8.2.  Place and instrument noun  45

3.2.8.3.  Agent noun  46

3.2.8.4.  Abstract noun  46

3.2.8.5.  Nationality and language names  46

3.3.  Prepositions  46

3.4.  Adjectives  47

3.4.1.  Derived adjectives  48

3.4.2.  Comparative and superlative  48

3.5.  Demonstratives  49

3.6.  Numerals and time  50

3.7.  Verbs  51

3.7.1.  Roots, stems, and words  51

3.7.1.1.  Twelve verb types  52

3.7.1.2.  A-type and B-type verbs  53

3.7.1.3.  C-type verbs  54

3.7.1.4.  Verb roots with two consonants  54

3.7.1.5.  Verb roots with initial a  54

3.7.2.   Four basic verb conjugations  55

3.7.2.1.  Past  55

3.7.2.2.  Nonpast  56

3.7.2.3.  Jussive and imperative  59

3.7.2.4.  Converb  60

3.7.3.  Infinitive  63

3.7.4.  Verb of being  63

3.7.5.  Verb of presence  64

3.7.6.  Having / possession  65

3.7.7.  Other tenses and moods  67

3.7.7.1.  Past perfect  67

3.7.7.2.  Obligation  67

3.7.7.3.  Habitual past  67

3.7.7.4.  Conditional perfect  67

3.7.7.5.  Progressive aspect  67

3.7.7.6.  To be about to do   68

3.7.7.7.  To intend to do  68

3.7.8.  Derived verbs  68

3.7.8.1.  Causative  68

3.7.8.2.  Passive / reflexive  70

3.7.8.3.  Reciprocal (‘each other’)  71

3.7.8.4.  Adjutative (‘help to’)   72

3.7.8.5.  Repetitive  72

3.7.8.6.  Verbs derived from nouns  73

3.7.8.7.  Defective verbs  73

3.7.9.  Derived verbs in Amharic dictionaries  73

3.7.10.  ‘Say’ verbs  74

3.7.11.  ‘Do’ verbs  75

3.7.12.  Impersonal verbs  75

 

4.  Amharic sentences  77

4.1.  Sentence word order  77

4.1.1.  Verb last  77

4.1.2.  Subject and object order  77

4.1.3.  Preverbal question words  78

4.1.4.  Adverbs  78

4.1.5.  The logic of word-order differences  78

4.2.  Question particles  79

4.3.  Noun-phrase word order  79

4.4.  Prepositions and postpositions  80

4.5.  Coordination (‘and’)  81

4.6.  Contrast (‘but’)  82

4.7.  Adjective clauses  83

4.8.  Noun clauses  84

4.9.  Adverb clauses  85

4.10.  Cleft sentences  87

4.11.  Sentences in the appendices  88

 

5. Amharic writing  89

5.1.  History of Amharic writing  89

5.1.1.  Sumerian  89

5.1.2.  Egyptian  89

5.1.3.  Sinaitic  91

5.1.4.  Greek  92

5.1.5.  South Arabian  92

5.1.6.  Ethiopic  93

5.1.7.  Amharic  95

5.1.8.  References for §5.1  95

5.2.  Consonants and vowels in Amharic writing  96

5.3.  Structure of the Amharic writing system  99

5.3.1.  Patterns of vowel modification  99

5.3.1.1.  Two-legged fidel  100

5.3.1.2.  One-legged fidel  101

5.3.1.3.  Three-legged fidel  101

5.3.1.4.  Legless fidel  102

5.3.2.  Homophonous fidel  102

5.3.2.1.  Two ways to write ÷  103

5.3.2.2.  Four ways to write h  104

5.3.2.3.  Two ways to write s  104

5.3.2.4.  Two ways to write s’  105

5.3.3.  Labiovelar and labialized consonants  105

5.3.4.  Historically later fidel  106

5.3.5.  Numbers  107

5.3.6.  Long consonants not written  107

5.3.7.  Alphabetical and dictionary order  108

 

Appendices to Part 2 (list of appendices)  111

 

PART 3. Learn to Read Amharic

 

Introduction  145

25 Exercises for learning to read Amharic  146

Answers to the exercises  174

 

PART 4. Wordlists

 

Introduction to the wordlists  187

Amharic-English  189

English-Amharic  217

 

Index  251

 

Preface

 

This is a book for adult learners of Amharic, for linguists, and for students of Ethiopian history and society who early in their study need a broad but thorough introduction to the history, society, phonetics, grammar, vocabulary, and writing system of this major language of Ethiopia. Nowadays Amharic is also being increasingly studied by the second and third generation of emigrants from Ethiopia, who wish to preserve their linguistic heritage in families where other languages may have become the first language. Travelers in Ethiopia will have an interest in Amharic, which is the lingua franca, spoken throughout the country. As a thorough introduction to the language, this book should be of interest to all these groups.

 

Amharic is one of the fifty most important languages in the world, in terms of number of speakers, and political, historical, and cultural importance. Its eighteen million or so speakers live mainly in Ethiopia, but as the result of emigration since the 1970s, hundreds of thousands in Amharic speakers now reside in Europe, the U.S., and Israel. Because of its importance as a Semitic, African, and Ethiopian language, Amharic more than other African languages has benefitted from the interest of linguists, who have written much on the language, but most of this addressed to other specialists. In fact, the first European-language grammar of Amharic was written in 1698, by Hiob Ludolf, in Latin.

 

There is a lengthy and excellent Amharic reference grammar by Wolf Leslau (1995), a two-volume Amharic-English dictionary by Thomas Kane (1990), good textbooks for studying the language, and clever and imaginative books published in Addis Ababa and directed either at learners or written for Amharic-speaking children. There are good introductory grammars, and good short dictionaries of Amharic; see the list of books for learning Amharic, on pp. 25-27. But one can find both grammar and vocabulary only in the textbooks, in which these are spread through the lessons. And the textbooks lack discussion of Amharic history and the Ethiopian linguistic setting.

 

This book therefore satisfies the need for a thorough book-length introduction to Amharic which includes an introduction to Amharic history and society (Part 1), a basic survey of the grammar including the writing system (Part 2), and lengthy Amharic-English and English-Amharic wordlists (Part 4). We satisfy two additional needs of such a book: Amharic examples are fully presented in phonetic writing so knowledge of the Amharic writing system is not required, while much of the grammar and vocabulary are also presented in Amharic writing for those who want and expect it. For those who want to learn to read Amharic – absolutely necessary for those who expect to continue their study of the language – a thorough presentation of the Amharic writing system is provided, and as Part 3 a set of graded lessons to learn it, as a way to write English.

 

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages and the College of Arts and Letters of Michigan State University, which made publication possible. The language map of Ethiopia, Fig. 1.2, was drawn by Monika Feinen (Cologne). We owe thanks also to the publisher, Rüdiger Köppe, for important editorial assistance and advice.

 

Anbessa Teferra, Hadera, Israel

Grover Hudson, East Lansing, Michigan, USA