Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I attended my second lesson of Amharic yesterday, which made me feel like a six year child again who is learning to read and write! Everything in Amharic is different from the Latin-based languages I know: the construction of a sentence as well as the alphabet, made of very distinctive signs. My personal motivation was somewhat limited at first, as it is very easy to get by in Addis speaking English only. Most people here have enough knowledge of it to be able to communicate on a basic level. So why learn a new tongue that is spoken only in Ethiopia when our stay is temporary, I was asking myself. The main reason was intellectual curiosity as well as a reminiscence of my school and college days, when I was brainwashed to think that I couldn’t go to a country without first trying to learn the idiom. So I half-heartedly enrolled in the beginners Amharic class at the Alliance franco-ethiopienne, the only class I found for foreigners (the majority of the students are French, by the way). Initially, I was a little bored with the repetitiveness of the lesson. In Amharic, the initial salutations are important and therefore take a bit of time in the conversation. So we had to learn how to say hello to a man, to a woman, to a single person using the polite form, and to a group, that for the different times of the day: morning, afternoon, evening and night. So, “how are you” to a man is ïndämïn näh and to a woman ïndämïn näš (in phonetics), and so on for all the different situations.
I got really interested though when we started reading the alphabet. Suddenly a new world of signs with their own meaning and logic, opened up. I find it fascinating to learn a new way of writing. Amharic is an ancient semitic language, similarly to Arabic, Hebrew and Amaraic, written using the Ge’ez alphabet, a system of phonetic signs. However, unlike Arabic, it is read from left to right, like European languages. Each consonant is represented by a different sign, and the syllable is formed by making a small addition to the root sign.
So for now, I have to practice my writing, just like a child by forming letters over and over again until I remember them! I don’t know if I’ll ever reach some fluency in the language, I first need to work on my own motivation towards it. That said, what I find the most useful part of the lesson is the numbers. I use them every day, mainly when buying things in shops and markets, and for asking or discussing prices. Crucial knowledge!!
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