About Learning Amharic with Berlitz
Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia. It is the mother tongue of about 20 million people (one-third of the country's population), living mostly in the vicinity of the capital, Addis Ababa, and in the area to the north. About 30 million others speak it as a second language.
Amharic is one of the Semitic languages, which form a branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. It belongs to the Ethiopic branch of Semitic, as opposed to Arabic and Hebrew, which belong to other branches. The Semitic languages
were brought to Ethiopia perhaps as early as 1000 BC. Speakers of a south Arabian dialect from the kingdom of Saba (the biblical Sheba) in southwest Arabia crossed the Red Sea and settled in the highlands of Ethiopia. From
the 4th century AD onward the principal language of the country was Ge’ez, the forerunner of all the Ethiopic languages and still the language of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.
Amharic is written in the Ethiopic alphabet that was used to write Ge’ez, and which had its origin in the south Arabian writing system. Originally written from right to left, it eventually switched, probably under Greek influence,
from left to right. There are 32 characters, each representing a consonant, but each has seven slightly different forms to reflect the vowel sound that follows. Two dots are placed after each word to separate it from the next.