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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

7 - Ethiopia



The Ethiopian Linguistic Area (ELA) is the most famous linguistic area in Africa. It is the only linguistic area of this continent mentioned and (sometimes) discussed to a certain extent in general works dealing with language contact and areal linguistics (e.g. Masica 1976; Thomason 2001b; Thomason & Kaufman 1988). Most scholars dealing with Ethiopian languages refer to this area as the “Ethiopian Language Area” (Ferguson 1970, 1976; Sasse 1986; Hayward 1991; Zaborski 1991, 2003; Tosco 1994b; Crass 2002). This term, however, is problematic in several respects:

The English translation of what is called in German Sprachbund is linguistic area, convergence area, or diffusion area (Campbell 1994: 1471). The term linguistic area is used by most of the authors dealing with such areas (e.g. Masica 1976; several papers written by Emeneau, collected in Dil 1980; Thomason 2001b).

At least partly, the area includes Eritrea, which was a province of Ethiopia until it became an independent state in 1993.

A certain number of features are found beyond Ethiopia and Eritrea in languages spoken in the neighboring countries Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and even beyond.

Some scholars have taken these facts into account, at least to some extent. Hayward (2000b: 623) uses the term “Ethio-Eritrean Sprachbund” and Zaborski (2003) proposes “North East African Language Macro-Area.” Despite the fact “that the overlap [of features] into neighboring regions is minimal”, Bender (n.d.: 4) stresses that “[n]ow we must modify it to ‘Ethiopia-Eritrean Area,’ in view of recent political history.”