Ethiopia has 83 different languages with up to 200 different dialects spoken. The largest ethnic and linguistic groups are the Oromos, Amharas and Tigrayans.
Ge’ez is the ancient language, and was introduced as an official written language during the first Aksumite kingdom when the Sabeans sought refuge in Aksum. The Aksumites developed Ge’ez, a unique script derived from the Sabean alphabet, and it is still used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church today. Tigrigna and Amharigna (Amharic) are the modern languages which are derived from Ge’ez. Amharic is the official national language of Ethiopia. English, Arabic, Italian and French are widely spoken by many Ethiopians.
The Ethiopian languages are divided into four major language groups.These are Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan.
The Semitic languages are spoken in northern, central and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Tigray, Amhara, Harar and northern part of the Southern Peoples’ State regions).
They use the Ge’ez script that is unique to the country, which consists of 33 letters, each of which denotes 7 characters, making a total of 231 characters.
The Cushitic languages are mostly spoken in central, southern and eastern Ethiopia (mainly in Afar, Oromia and Somali regions). The Cushitic languages use the Roman alphabet and Ge’ez script. For example, Oromo is written in the Ge’ez script whereas Somali is written in the Roman alphabet.
The Omotic languages are predominantly spoken between the Lakes of southern Rift Valley and the Omo River.
The Nilo-Saharan languages are largely spoken in the western part of the country along the border with Sudan (mainly in Gambella and Benshangul regions).