People and Language

People and Language

Ethiopia is old beyond imaginations, dating back to the very beginnings of mankind. It’s a place of legendary rulers, fabulous kingdoms in ancient histories.

With more than 80 languages and some 200 dialects, each ethnic group, preserves its own unique customs and traditions. You will find all the major religions of the world in Ethiopia. But for all the exotic variety, the people of Ethiopia are as one for their friendliness and hospitality.

At least 70 languages are spoken as mother tongues, but several predominate. Most belong to the Semitic, Cushitic, or Omotic families of the larger Afro-Asiatic super-language family; a small number belong to the Nilo-Saharan family of languages. The largest Semitic-speaking groups are the Amhara, who speak Amharic, and the Tigray, who speak Tigrinya. The Amhara occupy the center of the northern highlands, the Tigray, the far north. Both are plow agriculturalists. Smaller groups include the Gurague, Hareri, and Argobba.

Cushitic-speakers include a large number of groups, who live in the southern highlands. Among them is the largest and most widespread of all of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups—the Oromo, who live in the center-west and in the central southern highlands.

Some are agriculturalists and others pastoralists. The Oromo language consists of a number of dialects. The Somali occupy the southeastern lowlands; they are pastoralists and are organized into clans and lineages. North of the Somalis is the Afar or Danakil, pastoralists who inhabit the hot lowlands between the Red Sea and the northern highlands. In the southwest, southern highlands are several groups who speak related languages sometimes called Sidamo languages. The largest of these are the Sidama and the Hadya-Libido, cultivators of ensete and coffee. Finally, in the northern highlands are several small groups known as the Agew. Among these Agew-speakers are the Awi, Kimant, and Beta Israel (Felasha).