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About Tigrinya Language

Tigrinya (tigriññā), also spelled Tigrigna, Tigrina, Tigriña, less commonly Tigrinian, Tigrinyan, is a Semitic language spoken by the Tigray-Tigrinya people in central Eritrea (there referred to as the "Tigrinya" people), where it is one of the two dominant languages of Eritrea, and in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia (whose speakers are called "Tigray"), where it has official status, and among groups of emigrants from these regions, including some of the Beta Israel now living in Israel. Tigrinya is also spoken by the Jeberti (Muslim Tigrinya) in Eritrea. Tigrinya should not be confused with the related Tigre language, which is spoken in the lowland regions in Eritrea to the north and west of the region where Tigrinya is spoken.

History and literature

The earliest written example of Tigrinya is a text of local laws found in the district of Logosarda, southern Eritrea which dates from the 1200s.

In Eritrea, during British administration, the Ministry of information put out a weekly newspaper in Tigrinya which cost 5 cents and sold 5,000 copies weekly. At the time it was reported to be the first of its kind.

Tigrinya (along with Arabic) was one of Eritrea's official languages during its short-lived federation with Ethiopia; in 1958 it was replaced with Amharic prior to its annexation. Upon Eritrea's independence in 1993, Tigrinya retained the status of "working language" in the country, the only state in the world to date, to award Tigrinya recognition on a national level.

Speakers

There is no generally agreed upon name for the people who speak Tigrinya. A native of Tigray is referred to in Tigrinya as tigrāwāy (male), tigrāweytī (female), tigrāwōt or tegaru (plural). In Eritrea, Tigrinya speakers are officially known as the Bihér-Tigrigna which means nation of Tigrigna/Tigrinya speakers. Bihér roughly means nation in the ethnic sense of the word in Tigrinya, Tigre and Amharic as well as in Ge'ez from which all these languages originate. Muslim native Tigrigna speakers are known as the Jeberti, an Arabic name which implies conversion to Islam among Horn Africans.

In Ethiopia, Tigrinya is the third most spoken language, after Amharic and Oromo, while in Eritrea, Tigrinya is by far the most spoken language (see Demographics of Eritrea). Tigrigna is spoken by large immigrant communities around the world, among them the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and Sweden.

Tigrinya dialects differ phonetically, lexically, and grammatically. So far no dialect appears to be accepted as a standard. This article does not intend to cover dialectal variation.

Writing system

Tigrinya is written in the Ge'ez script, originally developed for the now-extinct Ge'ez language. Ge'ez and its script are also called "Ethiopic." The Ge'ez script is an abugida: each symbol represents a consonant+vowel syllable, and the symbols are organized in groups of similar symbols on the basis of both the consonant and the vowel.

 

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