EDITOR’S NOTE: On the other hand, the tribalist dictatorship in Ethiopia is systematically trying to eliminate Amharic from Ethiopia. Currently less then half of the schools in Ethiopia teach in Amharic.
UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS – The department of African and African-American Studies will start an Amharic language course in Spring 2009 courtesy of a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Amharic is a Semitic language spoken mainly in Ethiopia and parts of Eritrea and Sudan.
Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, and it is spoken by more than 17 million people in the country. Only a few U.S. institutions have Amharic programs.
The department created the course for students like Gabrielle McCully, Overland Park graduate student, who recently volunteered to provide medical care in Yetebon, Ethiopia. McCully did not know Amharic before visiting Ethiopia, but she learned some on her trips there during the summers of 2006 and 2008. Because McCully attends the KU Medical School in Kansas City, Kan., she won’t be able to take this class. She is planning another trip and said that if the class were available in Kansas City, she would take it to make travel easier.
Peter Ukpokodu, chairman of African and African-American Studies, said the department was offering the course in response to student demand. He said some students were interested in studying anthropology and the history of Ethiopia, such as historical dynasties involving King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He said other students wanted to study archaeology in Ethiopia, where archaeologists discovered Lucy, the 3-million-year-old skeleton, in 1974.
“Ethiopia has never been colonized by Europeans,” Ukpokodu said. “Ethiopia has rich history.”
Ukpokodu said that some refugees from Ethiopia lived in the Kansas City area and that some of them didn’t speak English, so people who understood Amharic could be resources for the refugees.
Ukpokodu said the department was in the process of hiring an instructor. Only the first-level elementary class will be offered in the spring. He said a second-level Amharic course would eventually be offered so students could fill the foreign language requirement of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He said he also wanted to develop an exchange program with a university in Ethiopia.
Shiferaw Assefa, Africana librarian and bibliographer at the University, will supervise the Amharic program at the University. He said that because several international organizations had regional offices in Ethiopia, students could have an advantage by learning Amharic.
Although McCully said she had heard about poverty, AIDS and inadequate medical care in the area before her trip, she found welcoming and generous people and a beautiful landscape. She said the trip made her decide she wanted to work for a medical missionary after finishing school.
McCully said she was surprised the language would be added to the slate of African languages already taught at the University because it wasn’t as widely spoken as others. Other languages available through the department include Arabic, Haitian, Hausa, KiSwahili and Wolof.
Steven Groene, Salina senior, spent a semester in Senegal in 2007 and studied French and Wolof. He said studying a non-European language exposed him to different ways of thinking and culture.
“It allows me to explore something very different and look at people and the world in different ways,” he said.
For example, he said that in Wolof, there was no direct translation for family; instead, people use the phrase “people of the house.”
— Edited by Lauren Keith | UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS