Archiv der Kategorie: Vorträge

„The Oxford Handbook of Ethiopian Languages“ – An online book presentation

Ronny Meyer

27. February 2024,18:00 CET

This book presentation provides a general overview and basic introduction to the recently published collective volume The Oxford Handbook of Ethiopian Languages (OHEL) (

Ethiopia is home to almost one hundred thirty million people who speak about eighty languages belonging to the Cushitic, Omotic and Semitic sub-branches of Afroasiatic and Nilo-Saharan. Their speakers have been in contact for several centuries, resulting in bi- and multilingualism and the establishment of regional and national linguae francae. Moreover, this situation gave rise to the Ethiopian Linguistic Area, in which languages of different genetic origin started to develop similar linguistic features.

Despite this linguistic diversity and ongoing changes, general reference works on Ethiopian languages and linguistics all dating to the 1970s are now outdated. More recent works focus mainly on the Semitic languages and consequently lack information on Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan languages. The most recent general reference work on Ethiopia, the Encyclopedia Aethiopica (2003–2014), also contains information on Ethiopian languages, but usually in a very sketchy manner, often neglecting large parts of the morphology and syntax of the languages. Similarly, handbooks on African languages such as Heine et al. (1987), Heine/Nurse (1997), and Vossen/Dimmendaal (2020) deal with various Ethiopian languages but provide only very general information. Most of these works do not deal with sociolinguistic aspects of the languages and language groups.

Thus, there was a need for an up-to-date major reference work. The OHEL provides a comprehensive account of the languages spoken in Ethiopia, examining both their structures and linguistic features, as well as their function and use in society. It provides background and general information on Ethiopian languages, including their demographic distribution and classification, language policy, scripts and writing, and language endangerment. The book also provides an up-to-date overview of the four major language families in Ethiopia. Both major and less documented languages are included, ranging from Amharic and Oromo to Zay, Gawwada, and Yemsa. It also examines the languages that fall outside these four families, namely Ethiopian Sign Language, Ethiopian English, and Arabic in Ethiopia.

OHEL is of particular interest to senior scholars and graduate students with an interest or specialization in Ethiopian languages, and may also attract general linguists, language typologists, African linguists, and Ethiopianists. Furthermore, we, the editors, hope that it will have an impact on Applied Linguistics in Ethiopia, since many of the languages covered in the OHEL have recently been introduced in primary education, although they are still inadequately described. We strongly believe that the OHEL will find a wide national Ethiopian and international readership.

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Painting from Tigray

State and society in local Tigrinya language practice – how culture resists

Wolbert G.C. Smidt

12. December 2023,18:00 CET

This talk focuses on local language practices, in contrast to official discourses on language and established understandings of vocabulary. In language practice, understanding of words are to some degree highly fluid and situational – according to political context, local experiences of success or suffering, cultural norms regarding the self-organisation of society, networking, negotiations of chances and mutual relations, and of historical memory shape the use of words. This includes local traditions of resistance against power, from a very local to the state level. This talk will focus on Tigrinya practice in the urban and rural context in Tigray, not within institutional settings (which tend to be state-oriented), but in private conversations (which are reflecting daily practice fluctuating between trust for the state and ideas of local rights beyond the state). Vocabulary around concepts of „land“ (addi, hager) are discussed, such as concepts of „government“ (mengisti) and of „law“ (heggi), which are used in a particular way in local parlance, marked by centuries of strong local autonomy, challenges of survival and the periodical presence of state actors. The state, at least the modern one, appears rather as an outside force, from which one may need protection, against one needs to rebel, or to which one needs to submit or which provides chances to be used – while in all cases, language practice shows the domination of local views of life organisation, land use and law, where the state is not authoritative. In short: Local realities defy the illusions of a strong state.

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Part of 1st page of Amharic tawhid from Dälämäle

Some notes on the linguistic features of Islamic Amharic manuscript literature

Andreas Wetter

24. October 2023, 18:00 CET

Since the 19th century, the Wällo region in Ethiopia has served as a prominent hub for Islamic education. This has led to the establishment of numerous centers dedicated to Islamic scholarship, fostering a flourishing literary tradition. In addition to Arabic literature, there has been a notable emergence of literature in local languages such as Amharic, Argobba, Afar, and Oromo, all of which were written using the Arabic script. The language found in these manuscripts is heavily influenced by Classical Arabic, to the extent that Drewes (1976) describes it as a „intricate mixture of languages.“ This phenomenon raises broader questions about the relationship between language and religion, particularly the notion of distinct religiously defined linguistic varieties, such as „Islamic languages“ (Bausani 1981, challenged by Versteegh 2020) or „Muslim“ varieties (Gori 2015). Hary and Wein (2013) propose the concept of „religiolect“ as a theoretical framework that may shed light on this matter. Additionally, Brenner and Last (1985) discuss the use of „learned dialects“ within social contexts characterized by Islamic scholarship. The presentation will provide an overview of Islamic Amharic manuscript literature, describe its linguistic peculiarities and discuss its sociolinguistic role.


  • Bausani, Alessandro. 1981.“Le lingue islamiche: Interazioni e acculturazioni”. In Bausani, Alessandro and Scarcia Amoretti, Biancamaria (eds.). Il mondo islamico tra interazione e acculturazione. Rome: Università degli Studi di Roma. 3-19. 
  • Brenner, Louis and Last, Murray. 1985. “The role of language in West African Islam”. Africa 55(4). 432-446.
  • Gori, Alessandro. 2015. “Languages and literatures of the Muslims of the Horn of Africa: some first general reflections”. In: P. Nicelli (Ed.). L’africa, l’oriente mediterraneo e l’europa. Tradizioni e culture a confronto. Milano: Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana. 119-126.
  • Drewes, Abraham Johannes. 1976. Classical Arabic in Central Ethiopia. Leiden: Brill.
  • Hary, Benjamin and Wein, Martin J. 2013. “Religiolinguistics: on Jewish-, Christian- and Muslim-defined languages”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 220. 85-108.
  • Versteegh, Kees. 2020. “Can a Language be Islamic?” Eurasian Studies 18. 5-25.

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Precarious Urbanism in Somalia

Jutta Bakonyi

14. November 2023,18:00 CET

The talk introduces Jutta Bakonyi’s and Pete Chonka’s new monograph ‘Precarious Urbanism. Displacement, Belonging and the Reconstruction of Somali Cities’ (Bristol University Press, 2023). Building on narrative interviews and photo-voice the book discusses the nexus of displacement and urbanisation in four Somali cities: Hargeisa in Somaliland, and Bosaso, Baidoa and Mogadishu in Somalia. We follow the reasons and routes of displacement before we analyse the micro-political economy that underpin urban settlements but also drive dynamics of evictions and gentrification. While we show that displaced persons are active agents of city making, we also critically engage with the discursive construction of the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) and show how this label exerts power and structures socio-economic inequalities and the politics of belonging in the four cities.

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The end of Somaliland as we know it? Current political and conflict dynamics in northern Somalia

Markus Höhne

28. November 2023, 18:00 CET

Somaliland in north-western Somalia seceded unilaterally from the rest of Somalia in 1991. Since then, it developed as viable de facto state. It is generally reported as beacon of stability, praised for its internal peace, (relatively) democratic elections and the legitimacy of its political institutions. In recent years, there has been a considerable influx of international aid, investment and political support to Somaliland, nurturing hopes of international recognition. However, what often is ignored by external observers, and what also is consciously silenced by Somaliland elites and vocal supporters in the diaspora, is the plurality of political positions within Somaliland for and against secession from Somalia. These positions are, to a considerable degree, related to clan-belonging. Members of the Isaaq clan-family residing in the centre of Somaliland tend to support secession. Those belonging to the Harti-clan-collective residing in the east mainly reject secession. The epicentre of this conflict has since twenty years now been Lasanod and surrounding’s. Marginalization and militarization have become the hallmark of the area since 2002. Over the years, Somaliland forces and Harti militias clashed occasionally. The Somaliland army eventually established itself as dominant power. Yet, in December 2022, an uprising started in Lasanod that transformed in a veritable war. Between February and August 2023, the Somaliland army laid siege to Lasanod, frequently shelling the town. Local militias put up resistance which was logistically and militarily supported by Puntland, which is part of Somalia and neighbours Somaliland to the east. On 25 August, the Harti militias routed the Somaliland army positioned around Lasanod and drove them far west, out of all Harti clan-lands. Subsequently, the Harti began to establish their own administration called SSC-Khaatumo, which sees itself as part of Somalia. At the moment, it is unclear if the government of Somaliland will engaged in a military counter-offensive. Additional to the military defeat in the east, Somaliland faces internal rifts in the centre. If the status quo continues, Somaliland’s secessionist project is likely “dead”. What will this mean for peace and stability in the region?

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