From February 12th, Ca’ Foscari will officially add another language to the 40 already available. Thanks to Professor Mellese Gelaneh Alemu, from Bahir Dar University, students will have a chance to learn Ahmaric, Ethiopia’s official language, and discover the country’s rich cultural world.
We interviewed the new member of the faculty to find out more about this fascinating course!
Why is it useful to learn Amharic in the present international scenario?
In the current global scenario, countries are interrelated for many reasons. Learning Amharic would pave the way to stronger socio-economic and political ties with Ethiopia, as learning a language is a tool of cultural diplomacy in bilateral, tripartite and other types of relationships. Amharic is the second most widely spoken Semitic language next to Arabic. It serves as the Lingua Franca of the multiethnic Ethiopia.
Besides being the official and working language of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), it is a language of wider communication in most regional states, in the Addis Ababa city administration and in many populous towns and cities. Israel, the United States of America and many more European cities with significant Ethiopian communities are also places where Amharic is spoken.
How has Ethiopian culture changed in the last few years?
Ethiopia is a multi-cultural country with different languages, numerous beliefs, values, and traditions. The country has gone through many instances of intra-cultural contamination for thousands of years. Someone may find a particular cultural norm or certain artifacts in the North which can also be observed in the South. For the same reasons, Ethiopia is considered as one of the language areas in the world (i.e. a group of languages that have common features resulting from geographical proximity and language contact - ed.).
However, in the last few years we've seen developments in the opposite sense . As a result of the language-based federalism, many significant ethnic groups have engaged in processes of self-identification, claiming different cultural elements that were once common to the whole nation.
Could you tell us more about the current historical moment for Ethiopia? What are its relationships with other countries?
Ethiopia has started to implement various political reforms. The political landscape has undergone a tangible transformation, as exemplified by the release of political prisoners and journalists. Though there are still challenges in this transformation period, I hope that through the renewed leadership the country can develop a true democratic system and become a model for many African countries.
Following the political changes, the country is currently rebuilding diplomatic ties with neighboring and European countries, as demonstrated by the recent visit of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to Ethiopia and of his Ethiopian counterpart Prime Minister Dr. Abi Ahmed to Italy and other European countries.
How will the teaching of the course be carried out?
I hope that, upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to communicate using Amharic. I also believe that the course will encourage many of the attendees to conduct ethnographic researches on and in Ethiopia. To fulfill these goals, besides simple linguistic and cultural description, there will be dialogues, presentations and discussions where Amharic is used in different contexts, with the help of texts and audio-visual teaching aids.
Although part of the Department of Asian and North African Studies, the course, which will be held in English, is open to everybody. It will also include topics connected to International Cooperation, thus contributing to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the UN 2030 Agenda.
Find out more about "Introduction to Amharic and Ethiopian Culture"