Tigrinya language

Tigrinya language
ትግርኛ tigriññā
Pronunciation /tɨɡrɨɲa/
Spoken in Eritrea, Ethiopia
Region Eritrea, Ethiopia, especially in Tigray
Native speakers 3.2 million in Ethiopia  (1994 census)[1]
2.5 million in Eritrea (2006)
Language family
  • Semitic
    • South Semitic
      • Ethiopic
        • North Ethiopic
          • Tigrinya
Writing system Ge'ez alphabet abugida
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ti
ISO 639-2 tir
ISO 639-3 tir

Tigrinya (ትግርኛ, tigriñā), also spelled Tigrigna, Tigrnia, Tigrina, Tigriña, less commonly Tigrinian, Tigrinyan, is a Semitic language spoken by the Tigrinya people in central Eritrea (there referred to as the "Tigrinya" people), where it is one of the two main languages of Eritrea, and in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia (whose speakers are called "Tigray"), where it has official status, and among groups of emigrants from these regions, including some of the Beta Israel now living in Israel. Tigrinya should not be confused with the related Tigre language, which is spoken in the lowland regions in Eritrea to the north and west of the region where Tigrinya is spoken.


History and literature

Although it differs markedly from the classical Ge'ez (Ethiopic) language - for instance, in having phrasal verbs, and in using a word-order that places the main verb last instead of first in the sentence (as in Ethiopic), there is a strong influence of Ge'ez on Tigrinya literature, especially with terms that relate to Christian life, Biblical names, and so on. [2] Ge'ez, because of its status within Ethiopian culture, and possibly also because of its inherently simple construction, acted as a literary medium until relatively recent times [3].

The earliest written example of Tigrinya is a text of local laws found in the district of Logosarda, southern Eritrea, which dates from the 13th century.[4]

In Eritrea, during British administration, the Ministry of information put out a weekly newspaper in Tigrinya that cost 5 cents and sold 5,000 copies weekly. At the time, it was reported to be the first of its kind.[5]

Tigrinya (along with Arabic) was one of Eritrea's official languages during its short-lived federation with Ethiopia; in 1958 it was replaced with Amharic prior to its annexation. Upon Eritrea's independence in 1991, Tigrinya retained the status of working language in the country, the only state in the world to date to award Tigrinya recognition on a national level.


There is no generally agreed upon name for the people who speak Tigrinya. A native of Tigray is referred to in Tigrinya as tigrāwāy (male), tigrāweytī (female), tigrāwōt or tegaru (plural). In Eritrea, Tigrinya speakers are officially known as the Bihér-Tigrigna which means nation of Tigrigna/Tigrinya speakers. Bihér roughly means nation in the ethnic sense of the word in Tigrinya, Tigre and Amharic as well as in Ge'ez from which all these languages originate. Muslim native Tigrigna speakers are known as the Jeberti, an Arabic name which implies conversion to Islam among Horn Africans.

In Ethiopia, Tigrinya is the third most spoken language, after Amharic and Oromo, while in Eritrea, Tigrinya is by far the most spoken language (see Demographics of Eritrea). Tigrigna is spoken by large immigrant communities around the world, among them the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and Sweden.

Tigrinya dialects differ phonetically, lexically, and grammatically.[6] No dialect appears to be accepted as a standard.


Consonant phonemes

Tigrinya has a fairly typical set of phonemes for an Ethiopian Semitic language. That is, there is a set of ejective consonants and the usual seven-vowel system. Unlike many of the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages, Tigrinya has preserved the two pharyngeal consonants which were apparently part of the ancient Ge'ez language and which, along with [x'], a velar or uvular ejective fricative, make it easy to distinguish spoken Tigrinya from related languages such as Amharic, though not from Tigre, which has also maintained the pharyngeal consonants.

The charts below show the phonemes of Tigrinya. The sounds are shown using the same system for representing the sounds as in the rest of the article. When the IPA symbol is different, it is indicated in square brackets.

The consonant /v/ appears in parentheses because it occurs only in recent borrowings from European languages.

The fricative sounds [x], [xʷ], [xʼ] and [xʷʼ] occur as allophones.

Dental Palato-alveolar/
Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
Plain Lab.
Nasal m n ñ [ɲ]
Stop voiceless p t č [tʃ] k kw [kʷ] [ʔ]
voiced b d ǧ [dʒ] g [ɡ] gw [ɡʷ]
ejective p' [pʼ] t' [tʼ] č' [tʃʼ] k' [kʼ] kw' [kʷʼ]
Fricative voiceless f s š [ʃ] (x) (xw) [xʷ] [ħ] h
voiced (v) z ž [ʒ] [ʕ]
ejective s' [sʼ] (x') [xʼ] (xw') [xʷʼ]
Approximant l y [j] w
Rhotic r

Vowel phonemes

The sounds are shown using the same system for representing the sounds as in the rest of the article. When the IPA symbol is different, it is indicated in square brackets.

Front Central Back
Close i ə [ɨ] u
Mid e ä [ɐ] o
Open a


Gemination, the doubling of a consonantal sound, is meaningful in Tigrinya, i.e. it affects the meaning of words. While gemination plays an important role in the morphology of the Tigrinya verb, it is normally accompanied by other marks. But there is a small number of pairs of words which are only differentiable from each other by gemination, e.g. /kʼɐrrɐbɐ/, ('he brought forth'); /kʼɐrɐbɐ/, ('he came closer'). All the consonants, with the exception of the pharyngeal and glottal, can be geminated.[7]


The velar consonants /k/ and /kʼ/ are pronounced differently when they appear immediately after a vowel and are not geminated. In these circumstances, /k/ is pronounced as a velar fricative. /kʼ/ is pronounced as a fricative, or sometimes as an affricate. This fricative or affricate is more often pronounced further back, in the uvular place of articulation (although it is represented in this article as [xʼ]). All of these possible realizations - velar ejective fricative, uvular ejective fricative, velar ejective affricate and uvular ejective affricate - are cross-linguistically very rare sounds.

Since these two sounds are completely conditioned by their environments, they can be considered allophones of /k/ and /kʼ/. This is especially clear from verb roots in which one consonant is realized as one or the other allophone depending on what precedes it. For example, for the verb meaning cry, which has the triconsonantal root |bky|, there are forms such as ምብካይ /məbkaj/ ('to cry') and በኸየ /bɐxɐjɐ/ ('he cried'), and for the verb meaning 'steal', which has the triconsonantal root |srkʼ|, there are forms such as ይሰርቁ /jəsɐrkʼu/ ('they steal') and ይሰርቕ /jəsɐrrəxʼ/ ('he steals').

What is especially interesting about these pairs of phones is that they are distinguished in Tigrinya orthography. Because allophones are completely predictable, it is quite unusual for them to be represented with distinct symbols in the written form of a language.


A Tigrinya syllable may consist of a consonant-vowel or a consonant-vowel-consonant sequence. When three consonants (or one geminated consonant and one simple consonant) come together within a word, the cluster is broken up with the introduction of an epenthetic vowel ə, and when two consonants (or one geminated consonant) would otherwise end a word, the vowel i appears after them, or (when this happens because of the presence of a suffix) ə is introduced before the suffix. For example,

  • ከብዲ käbdi 'stomach', ልቢ ləbbi 'heart'
  • -äy 'my', ከብደይ käbdäy 'my stomach', ልበይ ləbbäy 'my heart'
  • -ka 'your (masc.)', ከብድኻ käbdəxa 'your (masc.) stomach', ልብኻ ləbbəxa 'your (masc.) heart'
  • -n...-n 'and', ከብድን ልብን käbdən ləbbən 'stomach and heart'

Stress is neither contrastive nor particularly salient in Tigrinya. It seems to depend on gemination, but it has apparently not been systematically investigated.


Typical grammatical features

Grammatically, Tigrinya is a typical Ethiopian Semitic (ES) language in most ways:

  • A Tigrinya noun is treated as either masculine or feminine. However, most inanimate nouns do not have a fixed gender.
  • Tigrinya nouns have plural, as well as singular, forms, though the plural is not obligatory when the linguistic or pragmatic context makes the number clear. As in Tigre and Ge'ez (as well as Arabic), noun plurals may be formed through internal changes ("broken" plural) as well as through the addition of suffixes. For example, ፈረስ färäs 'horse', ኣፍራሰ ’afras 'horses'.
  • Adjectives behave in most ways like nouns. Most Tigrinya adjectives, like those in Tigre and Ge'ez, have feminine and plural (both genders) forms. For example, ጽቡቕ s'ǝbbux' 'good (m.sg.)', ጽብቕቲ s'ǝbbǝx'ti 'good (f.sg.)', ጽቡቓት s'ǝbbux'at 'good (pl.)'
  • Within personal pronouns and subject agreement inflections on verbs, gender is distinguished in second person as well as third. For example, ተዛረብ täzaräb 'speak! (m.sg.)', ተዛረቢ täzaräbi 'speak (f.sg.)'.
  • Possessive adjectives take the form of noun suffixes: ገዛ gäza 'house', ገዛይ gäza-y 'my house', ገዛኺ gäza-xi 'your (f.sg.) house'.
  • Verbs are based on consonantal roots, most consisting of three consonants: {sbr} 'break', ሰበረ säbärä 'he broke', ይሰብር yǝsäbbǝr 'he breaks', ምስባር mǝsbar 'to break'.
  • Within the tense system there is a basic distinction between the perfective form, conjugated with suffixes and denoting the past, and the imperfective form, conjugated with prefixes and in some cases suffixes, and denoting the present or future: ሰበሩ säbär-u 'they broke', ይሰብሩ yǝ-säbr-u 'they break'.
  • As in Ge'ez and Amharic, there is also a separate "gerundive" form of the verb, conjugated with suffixes and used to link verbs within a sentence: ገዲፍካ ተዛረብ gädifka täzaräb 'stop (that) and speak (m.sg.)'.
  • Verbs also have a separate jussive/imperative form, similar to the imperfective: ይስበሩ yǝ-sbär-u 'let them break'.
  • Through the addition of derivational morphology (internal changes to verb stems and/or prefixes), verbs may be made passive, reflexive, causative, frequentative, reciprocal, or reciprocal causative: ፈለጡ fälät'-u 'they knew', ተፈልጡ tä-fält'-u 'they were known', ኣፈልጡ ’a-fält'-u 'they caused to know (they introduced)', ተፋለጡ tä-falät'-u 'they knew each other', ኣፋለጡ ’a-f-falät'-u 'they caused to know each other'.
  • Verbs may take direct object and prepositional pronoun suffixes: ፈለጠኒ fälät'ä-nni 'he knew me', ፈለጠለይ fälät'ä-lläy 'he knew for me'.
  • Negation is expressed through the prefix ay- and, in independent clauses, the suffix -n: ኣይፈለጠን ay-fälät'ä-n 'he didn't know'.
  • The copula and the verb of existence in the present are irregular: ኣሎ ’allo 'there is, he exists', እዩ ǝyyu 'he is', የለን or የልቦን yällän or yälbon 'there isn't, he doesn't exist', ኣይኰነን aykʷänän 'he isn't', ነበረ näbärä 'he existed, he was, there was', ይኸውን yǝ-xäwwǝn 'he will be', ይነብር yǝ-näbbǝr 'he will exist, there will be'.
  • The verb of existence together with object suffixes for the possessor expresses possession ('have') and obligation ('must'): ኣሎኒ ’allo-nni 'I have, I must' (lit. 'there is (to) me').
  • Relative clauses are expressed by a prefix attached to the verb: ዝፈለጠ zǝ-fälät'ä 'who knew'
  • Cleft sentences, with relative clauses normally following the copula, are very common: መን እዩ ዝፈለጠ män ǝyyu zǝ-fälät'ä 'who knew?' (lit. 'who is he who knew?').
  • There is an accusative marker used on definite direct objects. In Tigrinya this is the prefix nǝ-. For example, ሓጐስ ንኣልማዝ ረኺቡዋ ḥagʷäs ’almaz räxibuwwa 'Hagos met Almaz'.
  • As in other modern ES languages, the default word order in clauses is subject–object–verb, and noun modifiers usually (though not always in Tigrinya) precede their head nouns.

Peculiarities of Tigrinya grammar

Tigrinya grammar is unique within ES in several ways:

  • For second person pronouns, there is a separate vocative form, used to get a person's attention: ንስኻ nǝssǝxa 'you (m.sg.)', ኣታ ’atta 'you! (m.sg.)'.
  • There is a definite article, related (as in English) to the demonstrative adjective meaning 'that': እታ ጓል ’ǝta gʷal 'the girl'.
  • The gerundive form is used for past tense, as well as for the linking function as in Ge'ez and Amharic: ተዛሪቡ täzaribu '(he) speaking, he spoke'.
  • Yes-no questions are marked by the particle do following the questioned word: ሓፍተይዶ ርኢኺ ḥaftäydo rǝ’ixi 'did you (f.sg.) see my sister?'.
  • The negative circumfix ay- -n may mark nouns, pronouns, and adjectives as well as verbs: ኣይኣነን ay-’anä-n 'not me', ኣይዓብይን ay‘abǝy-ǝn 'not big'
  • Tigrinya has an unusually complex tense–aspect–mood system, with many nuances achieved using combinations of the three basic aspectual forms (perfect, imperfect, gerundive) and various auxiliary verbs including the copula (እዩ ǝyyu, etc.), the verb of existence (ኣሎ ’allo, etc.), and the verbs ነበረ näbärä 'exist, live', ኮነ konä 'become', ጸንሔ s'änḥe 'stay'.
  • Tigrinya has compound prepositions corresponding to the preposition–postposition compounds found in Amharic: ኣብ ልዕሊ ዓራት ab lǝ‘li ‘arat 'on (top of) the bed', ኣብ ትሕቲ ዓራት ab tǝḥti ‘arat 'under the bed'
  • Unlike most ES languages, Tigrinya has only one set of applicative suffixes, used both for the dative and benefactive and for locative and adversative senses: ተቐሚጣሉ täx'ämmit'a-llu 'she sat down for him' or 'she sat down on it' or 'she sat down to his detriment'.

Writing system

Tigrinya is written in the Ge'ez script, originally developed for the Ge'ez language, now used only in liturgical and classical texts. Ge'ez and its script are also called Ethiopic. The Ge'ez script is an abugida: each symbol represents a consonant+vowel syllable, and the symbols are organized in groups of similar symbols on the basis of both the consonant and the vowel.[7] In the table below the columns are assigned to the seven vowels of Tigrinya (and Ge'ez); they appear in the traditional order. The rows are assigned to the consonants, again in the traditional order.

For each consonant in an abugida, there is an unmarked symbol representing that consonant followed by a canonical or inherent vowel. For the Ge'ez abugida, this canonical vowel is ä, the first column in the table. However, since the pharyngeal and glottal consonants of Tigrinya (and other Ethiopian Semitic languages) cannot be followed by this vowel, the symbols in the first column in the rows for those consonants are pronounced with the vowel a, exactly as in the fourth row. These redundant symbols are falling into disuse in Tigrinya and are shown with a dark gray background in the table. When it is necessary to represent a consonant with no following vowel, the consonant+ə form is used (the symbol in the sixth column). For example, the word ’ǝntay 'what?' is written እንታይ, literally ’ǝ-nǝ-ta-yǝ.

Since some of the distinctions that were apparently made in Ge'ez have been lost in Tigrinya, there are two rows of symbols each for the consonants /h/, /s/, and /sʼ/. In Eritrea, for /s/ and /sʼ/, at least, one of these has fallen into disuse in Tigrinya and is now considered old-fashioned. These less-used series are shown with a dark gray background in the chart.

The orthography does not mark gemination, so the pair of words k'ärräbä 'he approached', k'äräbä 'he was near' are both written ቀረበ. Since such minimal pairs are very rare, this presents no problem to readers of the language.

Tigrinya writing system
  ä u i a e (ǝ) o

See also


  1. ^ In 2005, Ethnologue estimated a total of 4.45 million Tigrinya speakers ranging over all countries; 3.2 million in Ethiopia, 1.2 million in Eritrea, 10,000 Beta Israels in Israel (the remaining 15,000 are unaccounted for).[1] The Tigrinya ethnic group, almost entirely Tigrinya speaking[citation needed], is estimated at 3.3 million by Ethnologue, whereas other estimates indicate 4.3 million in Ethiopia (CSA 2005 National Statistics, Table B.3.), 2.4 million in Eritrea (July 2006).[2]
  2. ^ The Bible in Tigrinya, United Bible society, 1997
  3. ^ Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians, Oxford University Press 1960
  4. ^ "UCLA Language Materials Project Language Profiles Page: Tigrinya". UCLA. http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=18&menu=004. Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  5. ^ Ministry of Information (1944) The First to be Freed—The record of British military administration in Eritrea and Somalia, 1941-1943. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office.
  6. ^ Leslau, Wolf (1941) Documents Tigrigna (Éthiopien Septentrional): Grammaire et Textes. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck.
  7. ^ a b Rehman, Abdel. English Tigrigna Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Tigrinya Language: (Asmara) Simon Wallenberg Press. Introduction Pages to the Tigrinya Language


  • Amanuel Sahle (1998) Säwasäsǝw Tǝgrǝñña bǝsäfiḥ. Lawrencevill, NJ, USA: Red Sea Press. ISBN 1-56902-096-5
  • Dan'el Täxlu Räda (1996, Eth. Cal.) Zäbänawi säwasəw kʷ'ankʷ'a Təgrəñña. Mäx'älä
  • Rehman, Abdel. English Tigrigna Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Tigrinya Language: (Asmara) Simon Wallenberg Press. Introduction Pages to the Tigrinya Language ISBN 1-84356-006-2
  • Eritrean People's Liberation Front (1985) Dictionary, English-Tigrigna-Arabic. Rome: EPLF.
  • ----- (1986) Dictionary, Tigrigna-English, mesgebe qalat tigrinya englizenya. Rome: EPLF.
  • Kane, Thomas L. (2000) Tigrinya-English Dictionary (2 vols). Springfield, VA: Dunwoody Press. ISBN 1-881265-68-4
  • Leslau, Wolf (1941) Documents tigrigna: grammaire et textes. Paris: Libraire C. Klincksieck.
  • Mason, John (Ed.) (1996) Säwasǝw Tǝgrǝñña, Tigrinya Grammar. Lawrenceville, NJ, USA: Red Sea Press. ISBN 0-932415-20-2 (ISBN 0-932415-21-0, paperback)
  • Praetorius, F. (1871) Grammatik der Tigriñasprache in Abessinien. Halle. ISBN 3-487-05191-5 (1974 reprint)
  • Täxästä Täxlä et al. (1989, Eth. Cal.) Mäzgäbä k'alat Təgrəñña bə-Təgrəñña. Addis Ababa: Nəgd matämiya dərəǧǧət.
  • Ullendorff, E. (1985) A Tigrinya Chrestomathy. Stuttgart: F. Steiner. ISBN 3-515-04314-4
  • Ze'im Girma (1983) Lǝsanä Ag’azi. Asmara: Government Printing Press.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем сделать НИР

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tigrinya language — also spelled  Tigrigna,  also called  Tigray  or  Tigrai        a Semitic language (Semitic languages) of the Tigray people of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea. Written records include religious texts prepared by mission societies and an… …   Universalium

  • Tigrinya grammar — This article describes the Grammar of Tigrinya, a South Semitic language which is spoken primarily in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and is written in Ge ez script. Contents 1 Nouns 1.1 Gender 1.2 Number 1.3 …   Wikipedia

  • Tigrinya verbs — In order to view the Tigrinya characters in this article, you will need a Unicode Ge ez font, such as GF Zemen Unicode. Unless otherwise indicated, Tigrinya verbs in this article are given in the usual citation form, the third person singular… …   Wikipedia

  • Tigrinya (Sprache) — Tigrinya (ትግርኛ tǝgrǝñña) Gesprochen in Eritrea, Äthiopien Sprecher 9 Mio. Linguistische Klassifikation Afroasiatische Sprachen Semitische Sprachen Westsemitische Sprachen Südwes …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Tigrinya — [tē grēn′yə] n. [< TIGRÉ2 + əñña, modern Ethiopic suffix for forming language names] a modern Ethiopic language, the direct descendant of Geez (classical Ethiopic): it is spoken by the majority of the population of Eritrea and by many people… …   English World dictionary

  • Tigrinya — noun A Semitic language of Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is written in the Geez alphabet. See Also: Tigray, Tigray Tigrinya …   Wiktionary

  • Tigrinya — [tɪ gri:njə] noun a Semitic language spoken in Tigray. Compare with Tigre. Origin the name in Tigrinya …   English new terms dictionary

  • Tigrinya — n. Semitic language of Eritrea; Semitic language spoken in northern Ethiopia …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Tigrinya — noun Etymology: Amharic tïgrïñña, from Tïgray Tigre, Ethiopia Date: 1878 a Semitic language of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tigrinya — /ti green yeuh/, n. a Semitic language spoken in northern Ethiopia. * * * …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”