Ethiopian Semitic languages

Ethiopian Semitic (also Ethio-Semitic, Ethiosemitic, Ethiopic or Abyssinian[1]) is a family of languages spoken in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan. They form the western branch of the South Semitic languages, itself a sub-branch of Semitic, part of the Afroasiatic language family.

With 21,811,600 total speakers as of 2007, including around 4,000,000 second language speakers, Amharic is the second-most common language of Ethiopia (after Oromo) and second-most commonly spoken Semitic language in the world (after Arabic).[2][3] Tigrinya has 7 million speakers and is the most widely spoken language in Eritrea.[4][5] There is a small population of Tigre speakers in Sudan. The Ge'ez language has a literary history in its own Ge'ez script going back to the first century AD. It is no longer spoken but remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, as well as their respective Eastern Catholic counterparts.

The "homeland" of the South Semitic languages is widely debated, with sources such as A. Murtonen (1967) and Lionel Bender (1997),[6] suggesting an origin in Ethiopia and others suggesting the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. A study based on a Bayesian model to estimate language change concluded that the latter viewpoint may be more probable.[7]

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 in common with other Semitic languages spoken in what is now Yemen.

The division of Ethiopic into northern and southern branches was proposed by Cohen (1931) and Hetzron (1972) and garnered broad acceptance, but has been challenged by Rainer Voigt, who concludes that the northern and southern languages are closely related.[8][9]

Hudson (2013) recognises five primary branches of Ethiosemitic. His classification is below.[13]


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