አማርኛ ፊደል, or the ‘Amharic Fidel’

Although the summer holiday is taking way too much of my free time, I will attempt to write a very special article today. This post shall serve as a brief introduction to one of my favourite writing systems, the Amharic Fidel, or አማርኛ ፊደል. This abugida is a modified version of the Ge’ez script (ግዕዝ), used to write the Amharic language of Ethiopia. Let’s talk a bit about the language first.

With its 25 million speakers, Amharic (or Amarəñña) is the second most spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic, and the official language of Ethiopia (ኢትዮጵያ). In addition, there are large numbers of speakers in other countries, including Eritrea (ኤርትራ), Somalia, Djibouti, Canada, the USA and Sweden. Despite the interest I gained when I first heard Amharic being spoken in Central Rome, my favourite aspect of the language remains its unique alphasyllabary.

Due my inability to read and write in any form of the Ge’ez alphabet, I will rely on Wikipedia in my attempt to introduce this beautiful script to you. The Amharic Fidel uses characters that represent a consontant+vowel combination. There is a wide variety of consonants, each combined with the vowels /ə/, /u/, /i/, /a/, /e/ (or /ɛ/), /ɨ/ and /o/ (or /ɔ/), to form new characters. In some cases, the vowels /ʷə/, /ʷi/, /ʷa/, /ʷe/ and /ʷɨ/ can also create fidels, as in ሟያ (mwaya), meaning ‘wage’.

However, we cannot say that the Ge’ez script perfectly suits the phonology of the Amharic language. This is mainly due to the issue with its contrastive gemination. According to Wikipedia, “consonant length can distinguish words from one another; for example, alä ‘he said’, allä ‘there is’.” The problem is the following: gemination is not indicated in Amharic orthography. So the reader has to rely on context to figure out how long the consonant sound should be held for when pronounced.

Before I finish, I would like to note the interesting use of punctuation. Amharic, and other Ethiopic languages written in the Ge’ez script, apply the double interpunct (፡) as a word separator, although it is often replaced with a whitespace. Other unusual punctuation marks include the section mark (፠) and the paragraph separator (፨). Since I’m not too sure about the use of these characters, I will now leave the topic and end this article with my first ever attempt to write my forename in Amharic: ባሊነተ. Please correct it for me, if you can.

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5 thoughts on “አማርኛ ፊደል, or the ‘Amharic Fidel’

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  4. Hi Bálint,
    I’m glad you’ve taken an interest in the Amarigna Fidel. I think you wrote your name correctly even though I can’t be sure because I don’t know how it is pronounced. if the last t sound is supposed to be tə then you should have used ት instead of ተ which is pronounced tä. But overall it seems to be correct, well done. If your name is actually written ባሊነት it is kind of humorous because the -ነት ending is similar to the -ness ending in English, it makes an adjective become a noun. And ባሊ or ባልዲ means “bucket” in Amharic so your name literally translates to the quality of bucketness lol. But I’m sure the average Ethiopian wouldn’t make that association so you shouldn’t feel self conscious when introducing yourself to Amharic speakers.
    Additionally the “problem” of gemination is not really a problem for Amharic speakers as the correct use of the word is almost always unambiguously clear in context. But it does add to the richness of Amharic by making Qene possible. You can read up on Qene here http://damera-poems-web.net/quene.doc But a famous author by the name of Hadisu Alemayehu did attempt to indicate gemination by the use of a dot over letters that are to be pronounced emphatically but that never took off.
    Lastly, I was born and raised speaking Amharic in Ethiopia and I’ve never seen any of those elaborate punctuation marks except the double interpunct which is now dying out because it’s easier to type a space than a colon.
    Good luck in your future linguistic adventures 🙂

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