The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, which is also the national language of the country. Other than Amharic, there are around 88 other different languages spoken in Ethiopia, most of which belong to the Semitic, Cushitic, and Omotic branches of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. Out of the 88 languages spoken in the country, 86 are currently alive, 41 are institutional, 14 are developing, 18 are vigorous, two are already extinct, five are almost extinct, while eight are in danger of extinction.

Oromo and Amharic are the two main languages spoken in the country, while English is the principal foreign tongue which is taught in schools as a second language. Amharic used to be the medium of instruction in schools, but this changed when it started to be replaced by other local languages such as Oromo and Tigrinya.

Amharic is the official national language and is spoken as a native language by approximately 30% of the population, or 21,634,396 speakers. All federal laws are published in this language. However, Amharic is not the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia, given that, as per the Ethiopian census of 2007, Oromo is the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia, at 24,930,424 speakers or nearly 34% of the population. Other languages that are more or less widely spoken in Ethiopia are Somali with 4,609,274 speakers or 6.25%, Tigrinya with 4,324,476 speakers or 5.86%, Sidamo with 2,981,471 speakers or 4.84%, Wolaytta with 1,627,784 or 2.21%, Gurage with 1,481,783 or 2.01%, and Afar with 1,281,278 which equals to 1.74% of the population.

Semitic tongues of Tigrinya and Tigray are spoken in the north of the country, while Orominga, Somali and Afar are all Cushitic languages. Orominga is spoken by around 40% of all Ethiopians, most often in the south, while Somali and Afar are spoken in east. Omotic languages are spoken in the southwest of the country. The far southwest of the country is home to many Nilo-Saharan language speakers who can also be found along the western border.

Languages such as Gafat, Weyto and Mesmes are all extinct, while the Ongota language is at the brink of extinction. It is hard to predict exactly what languages are most likely to go extinct since there are many complex factors attributing to language death. There are about 22 languages on the list of the languages of Ethiopia which can be considered endangered, if the criteria for extinction in Ethiopia is the assumption that a language needs to have less than 10,000 speakers to be considered most likely to go extinct. The exact number of languages which are endangered or at the brink of extinction is therefore largely uncertain.

There have been efforts undertaken in Ethiopia to conserve Ethiopian languages over the years. All ethnic groups within the country were given the right to develop their own languages and establish first language primary education systems. The primary means of the writing system in Ethiopia is the Ge’ez script, which is also the current liturgical language of the Ethiopian Churches. Other communities may use different other methods of writing.


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