From a linguistic point of view, Ethiopia presents a rather complicated situation, due, for the central part, to the overlapping of different races or peoples on the same territory, each keeping its own language for more or less length, and also due to the peripheral districts, to the ebb and flow of races and peoples towards the great mountain massif or, down from it, towards the great valleys and plains below. The special geographical conditions of the country, allowing even small ethnic groups to defend their characteristics for a long time, have transformed Ethiopia into a true linguistic museum. Not without reason the popular Arabic etymology ran for a long time, explaining “Abyssinia” as “mixture, confusion of peoples”,”gather”. It should be noted that, especially for the western and southern regions, the knowledge and scientific study of languages are still very imperfect; hence new languages could be established, which are not known today, and the classification of others hitherto poorly known could undergo modifications. In general, one can make a great classification of the languages of Ethiopia: 1. Semitic stock; 2. Cushitic or Hamitic stock; 3. nilotic strain; 4. languages of still doubtful classification. Today we do not have sufficient elements to affirm the existence of nuclei with Bantu languages, where we ignore the people of servile origin who have recently settled in the lower valley of the Italian Giuba.
Semitic stock. – The ancient Ethiopian language or ge ‛ ez (v.) Probably spoken in various dialects, also in relation to the various origins of the ancient Semitic colonizers of Africa, has been extinct for many centuries as a spoken language (due to its literary use, v.: Literature). It has given rise to various languages, which we can group into at least three groups. They belong to the northern group, the Tigre and Tigrinya (tigrai, tigraico or tigrigna). Tigrè is spoken by populations mainly of shepherds in the northern part of Eritrea, in Samhar, by the tribes Mensa, Maria, Ad Temariàm, Ad Taclès, Habàb, Alghedèn, Sabderàt, from many hamlets Beni Amer; it is the language of Massawa and of the Dahlac Islands, from where it goes from the sea to the gates of Cassala (see eritrea); it is understood and spoken by bilingual populations, such as the Bileni and various Begia tribes from Barca, Anseba, from the northern border of Eritrea. Tigrinya (tigr āί y indigenous name, tigriññ ā Amharic name) is spoken in Tigrè proper, in the southern provinces of the Eritrean plateau (Hamasen, Seraè and Acchelè Guzai), in some district west of the Takkazè river (Ṣallamti, etc.) and in Uolcait (Wolqāyṭ).
The central group is constituted by the Amharic (am ā r ĭ ññ ā, indigenous name) or language of the Amhara, spoken, as well as in this province, also in the Scioa, in the Lasta, in the Goggiam, in the Damot, in the Baghiemeder, in the provinces north of Tana, in Quara, Uoghera and Semien. It is today the official language of Abyssinia; a special dialect, still poorly known, argobba (see Amharic, language and literature).
The southern group includes various languages, wrongly considered by some to be derivations of Amharic, and whose reunion in a single group is essentially geographic: the hárari, spoken in the homonymous city, and the guraghie, whose area may, at the ‘approximately, said to be included between the system of Lake Zuai to the east and the Omo River to the west, and which must be divided into dialects significantly different from each other (ciahà, aimellel, ulbarag and gogot). Finally, the gafàt is mentioned, to be included in the latter group, and which, spoken in ancient by several tribes on the left of the Blue Nile, in the middle of the century. XIX remained only among a few people established in Goggiam.
Arabic, which represents another linguistic family, is spoken by some small nucleus established in the north of Eritrea (Rasceida) or by other nuclei settled in the inhabited centers of the maritime coast.
Cushitic stump. – Includes 4 subgroups: 1st subgroup, northern or begia. It is spoken by Begia tribes settled in the northern regions of Eritrea (valleys of Barca, Anseba, Tabeh), and is presented in the two languages of Beni Amer and Hadendoa, of which some fractions have descended into the Ethiopian region. In the Taca, around Cassala, there is a third Begia language, that of the Halenga; 2nd subgroup, central, high – Cushitic or Cushitic proper. It is spoken by the Agau, who were the population of Abyssinia proper before the Semitization of the country. It survives in scattered areas here and there, on the Anseba, in the southern Tigrè, in the Lasta, in the Semien, in the regions north and west of the Tana, in the Damot and in the Agaumeder. As a rule, it is spoken in the internal use of family or village: for external relations, the same Agau-speaking populations know, depending on the case, Tigré, Tigrinya, or Amharic; 3rd subgroup, low – Cushitic or Southeastern Cushitic. It goes from the Gulf of Arafali (Iḷāfalo) to the River Tana and Lake Stefania. Includes: to the north, the saho, spoken by the homonymous nomadic tribes between the Gulf of Arafali, the peninsula of Buri and the eastern buttresses of Acchelè Guzai and d’Agamè; the dancali or afar, in the homonymous region, between the eastern mountains of Abyssinia and the sea; the Somali ; the gall ; 4th subgroup, Sidama. First of all, coffee is part of it, spoken in the region of the same name, with two ramifications, the scinascia, spoken by tribes to the west of the Dura river and in the adjacent region south of the Abai, including the territory of Locmàn, and it sharpened it, spoken by other tribes of the same lineage near the western border of Ethiopia, between Walleggà and Gambela. An eastern branch includes the gudiellà (called hadià by the Abyssinians and the Galla) in the region of Hadià, including the Cabiena; the cambatta or tambaro, immediately south of the previous one, in the two said provinces precisely Cambatta and Tambaro, with two distinct dialects, and in adjacent territories of Donga and Danta; the sidamo proper, in the territory that from the NE. of Lake Margherita goes up to the high valleys of Uebi Sidama and Magna. The gatsamba or gatsamo probably belongs to this same group, of which the residents of the islands of Lake Margherita make use, and perhaps also the language of the Badditu or Coira, established on the mountains to the south-east of that lake; while the Bambala of Amar Burgi seem to make use of a language of transition between the galla and the sidama, like (it is said) other populations p. ex. the Giamgiam and the Darasa.
Finally, there is a southern branch, south of the Tambaro and Caffa, in the Omo valley, a group that seems to carry the general name of daurò ; its main language is ualàmo or ualaitsa, spoken to s. in the province of Tambaro, between the Omo and the northern part of Lake Margherita; a dialect would be the cradle, in the homonymous region to the Omo. The parlari of more southern districts, the malò, the gofa, the docco, the dollo belong to this group (we do not know if they are always as true languages or rather as simple dialects). The southernmost tip would be represented by the Aro dialect.
Nilotic strain. – Certainly of Nilotic stock is cunama, spoken in the NO. of Eritrea; soles also be ascribed to the baria, N. spoke of the previous, in the region Mogolo etc. They are certainly Nilotics also certain languages of the extreme southern regions, the Mecan or horse mackerel (Lower Omo valley and valleys in O. thereof), also spoken by Murzu; the kerre, somewhat in S. dei Murzi; the murlè, in S. del kerre, which seems to be a crossroads between mecàn and turcana; the bumè at the mouth of the Omo in the Rodolfo lake, which is a Turkish dialect and therefore connects the Ethiopian regions with the southern group of the Niloti. For Ethiopia 1999, please check estatelearning.com.
The exploration of the western and southern regions of the current kingdom of Ethiopia will certainly increase the list of languages spoken there: of some there is vague news (eg, duncur, magi, conso), of others there are few malicious elements, the existence of others is probably unknown. It is likely that the number of languages of the Nilotic type, or, at least, of those of transition, between the Nilotic and the Cushitic, has increased in particular, representing the many times millennial friction between the two races. Meanwhile the gunza, to the west of the Agaumeder, up to the extreme southern curve of the Nile, which it crosses, is remembered ; the berta or gamilà, on the border between Fazogli and Ethiopia and in the lower Dabùs valley towards the confluence with the Blue Nile; the naa, or nao, south of Caffa, with dialects in Sciacco and Bacci districts (between Ghimira) and in Gurra-farda (dizi-dorsa); the ghimira or sce between the Ghimira or Sce, also south of Caffa and in the districts of Dizu and Sce Bennescio; the mesongo, in the Baco valley where it comes out of the mountains, etc.
The Ethiopian script whose use from the classical Ethiopian language geez has passed to Amharic (see Amharic, language and literature), and to Tigrinya and Tigrè, derives from the South Arabian one. At first the colonies of the southern Arabs in East Africa continued to use the South Arabian alphabet. Subsequently, this appears to have been modified: some believed it was the work of a reformer, others instead – including Conti-Rossini – due to a slow transformation of which documents are lacking due to the scarcity of epigraphic material. This second hypothesis is the one accepted today. Thus some important graphic novelties are fixed: the constant writing from left to right (perhaps due to Greek influence); the separation of words by perpendicular dashes replaced (later) in manuscripts by colons; the vocalization that is fixed in seven orders corresponding to the short and long vowels of the Ethiopian language. Very recently, in the publications made by Scioani after the reign of Menelik, new proposals for modifications have appeared: the suppression of the dividing points between words (see above); the question expressed through three points; a sign, finally, to indicate the doubling of the consonant (two dots superimposed on the letter). The Greek numerals were adopted as numerals which are still in use today.
The first Ethiopian writing document is the inscription of the obelisk of Matarà in the Scimezana (Eritrea); the first vocalized inscription appears, in the current state of the studies, to be that which refers to the expedition of the negus ‛Ezanā against the Aguēzāt (4th century AD) found in Aksum (Tigrè).