The Politics of Language in Ethiopia -Part 1

Language is political in Ethiopia because it has both structured and symbolized the nation-building project, and because, in the context of limited resources, any language policy change would require a significant realignment of resources. In modern Ethiopia, the historical distribution of the political goods of communication, recognition and autonomy has been highly skewed, benefiting native Amharic speakers disproportionately. Since the early 1990s, the decentralization of language choice under the federal constitution has led to the use of other languages by members of select ethno-linguistic communities. This study considers the politics of language choice, drawing from the rich literature in political theory which addresses the role of language in the identity politics of multiethnic and multilingual societies. The historical trajectory of language politics in Ethiopia is presented, but the focus is on evidence gathered in parts of Ethiopia in 2001 and 2003. These findings indicate the relationship between language identities, citizenship formation and identification in the country. They are based on structured interviews and participant observation in select regions of the country.
Smith, L. (2008). The Politics of Contemporary Language Policy in Ethiopia, Georgetown University. Journal of Developing Societies 24, 2 (2008): 207–243