The Diversity of Language in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a nation located in the Horn of Africa. The landlocked country boasts Africa’s second largest population. The country is known as the birthplace of coffee. Also, archaeologist’s findings point to Ethiopia as the site of the first humans.

We’re going to focus on another major thing that Ethiopia is known for – linguistic diversity. Ethnologue lists 90 languages spoken in Ethiopia – 88 living and 2 extinct. With so many, where do you start? Let’s look at the top four languages of Ethiopia.


Amharic is an Afroasiatic language of the Semitic branch (like Arabic). There are over 22 million speakers worldwide. According to Ethiopia’s Constitution, all languages are recognized by the state, but Amharic is the working language of the federal government. About 29.3% of Ethiopians speak Amharic as their first language. The language is written using a Ge’ez script known as Amharic Fidel. Amharic is one of six languages included in the (Washington) DC Language Access Act of 2004 (along with English, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese).  One major challenge with English to Amharic or Amharic to English translation is that there is no standard way to transliterate Amharic into Roman characters. Therefore, it is recommended to use in-country native speakers to translate content.


Oromo is an Afroasiatic language of the Cushitic branch (like Somali). Ethiopia is home to 85 percent of the world’s Oromo speakers. About 33.8% of Ethiopians speak Oromo as their first language. Oromo is written using Latin script. There is a large Oromo population living in Minnesota. The total number is estimated anywhere from 8,500 – 40,000.


Somali is an Afroasiatic language of the Cushitic branch (like Oromo). About 6.25% of Ethiopians speak Somali as their first language. There are about 4.6 million Somalis living in Ethiopia – the second largest population of this demographic. Most live in the Somali Region. The largest Somali population in the United States is the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) with about 25,000 residents.


Tigrinya is an Afroasiatic language of the Semitic branch (like Amharic). It is written using a Ge’ez script. It is one of two official languages in Eritrea (along with Arabic), which borders Ethiopia to the north. About 5.86% of Ethiopians speak Tigrinya as their first language. Ethiopia is home to the largest number of Tigrinya speakers (about 4.3 million) in the Tigray region. There is a significant Eritrean community living in the Washington, DC area, creating a need for Tigrinya translation services.

The largest diaspora community of Ethiopians in the world is in the United States. These numbers are expected to increase, as Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria made up about half of the foreign-born African population in the Unites States in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. This has created a demand for Amharic translation services, Oromo translation services, Somali translation services, and Tigrinya translation services.

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