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Language Policy and Practices Before the Haile Selassie I: The Ethiopian Language Policy: Series 1

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Language Policy and Practices Before the Haile Selassie I: The Ethiopian Language Policy: Series 1
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  i LANGUAGE POLICY AND PRACTICES IN ETHIOPIA DURING THE IMPERIAL REGIMES BY ALELIGN ASCHALE ADDIA ABABA UNIVERSITYFOREIGN LANGUAGES AND LITERATUREAPPLIED LINGUISTICS   April 2013Addis Ababa  ii Table of Contents   Contents Pages Introduction ...................................................................................................................................................... 1 1.   The Pre-Axumite Period ...................................................................................................................... 2 2.   During the Axumite Kingdom and Za  gawe Dynasty ........................................................................... 2 3.   Post-Zagawe Dynasty .......................................................................................................................... 4 4.   Contribution of the Church and the Schools in the Language Policy .................................................. 6 5.   Language Policy and Practices during Emperor Hailesellassie I ......................................................... 75.1. Ideology behind the Language Policy ................................................................................................... 7 5.2.   The Language of Education ............................................................................................................. 8 5.3.   “Opportunities” for Amharic to be “Dominant” during the Imperials Regime ............................... 9 5.4.   Politics of the Languages and Stigmatization of other languages .................................................. 10 6.   Conclusion ............................................................................................................................................. 13 References .............................................................................................................................................. 14  1 Introduction Language and Language use in Ethiopia has passed through a long and complex history of development.Ethiopia is a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious country with different socialstructures and practices. Kings, Emirs, Sheikdoms, Queens, Emperors, Empresses, Juntas and PrimeMinisters that ruled Ethiopia have followed different language policies that would outfit their politicalideologies.In the time before Hailesellasie I, the language policies of different regimes in Ethiopia reveal commonfeatures; though the rulers have different ideologies and political milieu, their language policies were covert(de facto), endoglossic and assimilationist. Thus mostly one or two languages were used without havingwritten legal documents or any other credentials. The status quo was taken as a rule and people of thecountry expected to know those languages to contact with governments.In this short review paper, the language policy and practices in Ethiopia from ancient times to Emperor Hailesellassie I is comprehensively presented. In the endeavor, attempts have been made to underscore thetheoretical grounds of language policy, historical backgrounds in Ethiopia, the language policy and practiceduring the Imperial regime, the ideology behind it, the politics and other related issues.  2 1.   The Pre-Axumite Period To begin with the ancient Ethiopian history, there were p owerful Kingdoms such as Punt, Di‟emt, Da‟amat, Mewrowe, Yeha, Napata, Nubia, Kush, etc whose languages were probably either Sabian, Greek, Roma,Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, Tigrigna, Tigre, Amharic, Geez or any other  “ dead ?” language. In this regard,there are very controversial, even not well documented, evidences that Amharic, Geez, and Tigrigna have srcinated separately, not descended from Ge‟ez as many historians have  been informing us. In this regard,Fikre Tollosa (2010:3) has written an article ( which seems a myth on the paper) pertaining to the Amhariclanguage arguing that “ it had already begun to evolve as far back as 3000 years ago ”; i n fact, “ it had existedlong before Geez ” had come to Ethiopia. He brought evidences that “ Menelik the I declared Geez as theofficial language of Ethiopia about 2950 years ago to honor and empower the Agazi, a tribe he brought from Ge‟ez which fought for him when Ethiopian tribes warred against him treating him as a Jewish "keles"who had ambition over the Ethiopian throne ” . In this argument, Fikre(ibid) critically claimed that Amharic and Ge‟ez are not father and children adding that “ Indeed, Amharic had developed and evolved more than3000 years; i.e, a while before Ge ‟ ez was decreed by Menelik I as the official language of Ethiopia byimposition ” (p.3) . Fikre‟s evidences are kings and throne nomenclatures that have Amara n ames such as “Zerffe” and“Sendek  -Alma ” in the list of Ethiopian kings who reigned before Queen of Sheba, mother of Menelik I; aswell ancient towns in Egypt known as  Amarna (konjo honin) and  Delta (we are comfortable, we are doingfine), in the region in which Jesus, Joseph and Mary found refuge 2000 years ago. He added in his evidencing that “ When Menelik I was born, the Amara wondered what King Solomon would say about his son, Menelik, and called him „Menelik‟ (min yilik, abateh?) ” (p .3), which F ikrie questioned that “ If theAmara language didn't exist over 3000 years ago, how come they called Menelik  I „Minyilik‟ about 3000years ago? ”  Likewise, archeological excavations traced, as Ayalneh Mulatu (n.d) wrote, that Ethiopia had her ownalphabets in the 5 th century B.C which were found in stone scriptures. 2.   During the Axumite Kingdom and Za gawe Dynasty Henze (2000:22) citing Kobishchanov (1979) said that Ethiopia had its heyday as a world power; there arefour great kingdoms on earth: the first is the kingdom of Babylon and Persia; the second is the kingdom of Rome; the third is the kingdom of Axumites; and the fourth is the kingdom of the Chinese. Hence, theAxumite was well known to the world: the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Romans, the Arabs, the Persians, theBabylonians, and the knowledge of the empire extended as far as the ancient Chinese Kingdom. The Axum Empire‟s imperial reach most likely included the entire region south of Egypt -Sudan and Abyssinia, South Arabia and control of the Red Sea‟s trade routes till the late 3 rd century A.D. (Henze, 2000: 30).  3 In a like to trace with, the Ethiopian monarchy had appealed to a mythical descent, the so-called Solomonictradition, a tradition which was explicitly incorporated in the 1955 Ethiopian constitution and drafted andenacted during the rule of Haileselassie as "The Imperial Dignity shall remain perpetually attached to theline of Haile Selassie I, descendent of King Sahle Selassie, whose line descends without interruption fromthe dynasty of Menelik I, son of the Queen of Ethiopia, the Queen of Sheba, and King Salomon of  Jerusalem."  The Point here as an undeniable fact is that the Ethiopian monarchy was an age-old institution which tracedits roots back to the Empire of Axum or prior. The empire of Axum, located in today's northern Ethiopia,flourished in the first centuries after Christ and controlled important territories in the Red Sea region (Vander Beken, 2007). Van der Beken argued that “because of the territorial scope of their powers, the kings of Axum considered themselves kings of kings, or emperors ” (p. 16) . Through the Red Sea trade, Axum cameinto contact with the culture of the Mediterranean area that offered an explanation for the introduction of Christianity in Axum, in the fourth century A.D. Christianity, in its orthodox form, became the state religionof Axum and would, together with imperial rule, develop into a constant factor in Ethiopian society. Nevertheless, from the 7 th century onwards, the empire declined and, isolated from the outside world; itwithdrew to more southern territories in the interior. In the following centuries, though a Christian empirecontinued to exist, it had been with large fluctuations in its position of power (Van der Beken, 2007). For example, power had transferred from the Axumite Kingdom to the Zagawe Dynasty (which had been called “usurpers” -illegitimate to be called the descendants of the Solomonics ‟ and located far away from Red Sea to the West and lost contact with the outside world) in the 10 th century (van Aswegen, 2008).In the 16 th century Christian empire was seriously threatened by a devastating Muslim invasion from theArab world of the then. But internal developments also impacted upon the authority of the imperialgovernment. In the middle of the 18 th century, though an empire with its seat of power at Gondar existed,there was no centralization of power in the hands of the emperor. Real power in the empire was exercised by the regional lords. There was a complete fragmentation of power where the different component principalities of the empire vied for predominance. This period (which is called the  Zemene Mesafmt  or theera of the princes) lasted to the middle of the 19 th century (Van der Beken, 2007). During this rein, both Amharic and Ge‟ez languages were used with differing statuses and c ontexts; Ge‟ez for the elites, the language of secrets among trusted soldiers and close allies and the language of the faith-Christianity. Ayalneh Mulatu (n.d) said that there was a stone scripture in Ge‟ez that shows the power andglory of King Ezana in the 1 st century that is believed to be translated from Greek language. Consequently,
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