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Ethiopia: Ethnic Groups, Ethnicity, and Language

Ya News Network

Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991.

Thomas P. Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry, editors.


One way of segmenting Ethiopia’s population is on the basis of language. However, the numbers in each category are uncertain, and estimates are often in conflict. At present, at least seventy languages are spoken as mother tongues, a few by many millions, others by only a few hundred persons. The number of distinct social units exceeds the number of languages because separate communities sometimes speak the same language. More than fifty of these languages–and certainly those spoken by the vast majority of Ethiopia’s people–are grouped within three families of the Afro-Asiatic super-language family: Semitic (represented by the branch called Ethio-Semitic and by Arabic), Cushitic, and Omotic. In addition, about 2 percent of the population speaks the languages of four families–East Sudanic, Koman, Berta, and Kunema–of the Nilo-Saharan super-language family.

Most speakers of Ethio-Semitic languages live…

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