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Language for whose Audience in the Ethiopian context? A Message to PM Hailemariam Desalegn

By Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD
Tigrai Online - June 30, 2013

This viewpoint is intended to critically appraise the mode of communicative language Ethiopians use whenever they want to express their ideas in the form of speech or writing. The majority of educated Ethiopians (high school to advanced degree levels) like to either speak in English or in Amharic or other Ethiopian languages bombarded with English language, even when they address illiterate peasants who don’t understand English at all. It has become increasingly fashionable for urbanite “educated” Ethiopians to use Guramayle (English and Ethiopian languages) to exhibit that they are civilized and modern, but in doing so they have utterly disregarded the majority of Ethiopian people, who apparently are uneducated. They speak without due consideration of their audience, and most importantly they seem to have forgotten that the most sophisticated educated people are those who communicate with their audience in the language that the latter understands.

I watch Ethiopian TV nightly news almost every day and I am dumbfounded to witness that almost all journalists, member of parliaments, ministers, government bureaucrats, regional state governors etc speak in Guramayle. For instance, the TV anchors in Amharic and other Ethiopian languages almost always say ‘transformation’, ‘construction’, ‘investment’, ‘budget’ etc but they may have inadvertently ignored their audience. Do they think the Ethiopian peasants really understand those English words? I suggest that the Ethiopian TV anchors go through some sort of introspection or self-examination and rethink some of the English words and employ Ethiopian words instead. For instance, they can say ስነ-ህንጻ instead of ‘construction’ መሰረታዊ ለውጥ ወይም ስር-ነቀል ለውጥ instead of ‘transformation’.

The other day I was watching a popular Ethiopian comedy show known as Betoch (ቤቶች) and in one of the episodes where the parents decided to allocate stipends for their children, the lady of the house said, “announcement Aለን”, a typical Guramayle instead of simply saying የምንነግራችሁ ነገር Aለ (we have something to tell you). This, of course, is a comedy show and the use of Guramayle may not be offensive, but the Ethiopian comedians must utilize Ethiopian language if indeed they want to transmit messages to the Ethiopian people. In one other episode where the youngest girl in the family got furious because of the cutting of a tree, Betoch sends a powerful message to all Ethiopians and while I criticize the use of language I also would be remiss if I don’t acknowledge the educational messages being conveyed by Betoch and other Ethiopian shows such as Sewlesew.

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