Oromo Language (Afaan Oromoo)


The Oromo are indigenous African people inhabiting the North Eastern part of Africa. They are the single most dominant largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, where the Oromia country contains a huge Ethiopia's land area and population. The Oromo language, also known as Afaan Oromo. Oromo language is a Cushitic language spoken by more than about 50 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt and is the 3rd largest language in Africa. There are more Oromo speakers abroad than the resident population in Ethiopia. In United States, Australia, Canada and different Europe cities people are speaking and communities are teaching their kids and foreigners those interested communications in Afaan Oromoo also taking the Oromo class. In Oromia, it has the status of an official language. It has its own script and it can be written with Latin script. The oral tradition is very rich and nowadays there are enough literary works written in Oromo; modern arts like music and folk arts. Oromo people speak Afaan Oromoo, as well as Amharic, Tigrinya, Gurange and Omotic languages. They are mainly Christian and Muslim, while only 3% still follows the traditional religion based on the worshipping of the god Waaq. Oromo are mainly farmers and cattle herders. They have distinguished themselves throughout history for their strong military organization.

The Oromo people's home land known as Oromia is approximately located between 3 & 15 degrees’ north latitude and 33 & 40 degrees longitude. Oromia is 375,000 square miles or 600,000 square kilometers. It means, it is larger than France, and if Cuba, Bulgaria and Britain were put together, they would be approximately equal to Oromia in size. Out of more than 55 African countires Oromia is exceeded in size by only 17 countries. Oromia borders Abyssinia in the north, Ogaden and Somalia in the east and south-east, South sudan and Sudan to the west and Kenya in the south. Oromia was one of the free nations in the horn of Africa until its colonization and occupation by Abyssinia (Ethiopia) at the end of nineteenth century.

The original inhabitants of Oromia, the Oromo people, speak and share one common language known as Afaan Oromoo also known as Oromo Language. Oromo language is categorized as a Cushitic language and it is the third most widely spoken language in Africa, after Arabic and Hausa. The Oromo population is more than 50 million currently, but the Ethiopian government reported the Oromo people as only 35 million now. This makes the Oromo is the third nationality in Africa and single largest nationality in east Africa.

The Oromo people mainly practice three different religions. These are Waaqeffanna (the traditional belief in Waaqaa or God), Islam and Christianity (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant).

Long back in history, Oromia is the locale of the 3.5 million years old Lucy (the common name to several hundred pieces of bone representing about 40 % of the skeleton of an individual Australopithecus afarensis that discovered in 1974) or Chaltu in Oromo language .

Oromia has hosted numerous pioneering human achievements including the development of the earliest pebble tools (circa 7000 b.c), the domestication of animals (circa 5000 b.c), and regional trade in antiquity in gold, ivory, etc. Inspite of all these advantages, a century of colonization by Abyssinia (Ethiopia) a back-ward nation itself, has meant that the Oromo people have endured a stagnant existence where ignorance and famine have been coupled with ruthless oppression, subjugation, exploitation and above all extermination.

The Oromo people developed an indigenous democratic system called Gadaa. Gadaa system is a system in which elected officials including the Abba Gadaa (President), the Abbaa Duulaa (Commander of the army), the Abbaa Horii (chief of the treasury), and nine Hayyuus (Judges) assumed public office for non-renewable 8 years’ terms. The Gadaa system can be listed as one of the true origin of modern day democratic leadership.

The Oromo people remained independent until the last decade of the 19th century. In the late decade of the nineteenth century Abyssinians from the north, aided by modern European arms, managed to conquer them. Since then successions of autocrats from Menelik to Meles Zenawi have systematically suppressed Oromo culture, looted Oromo resources, divided the Oromo people by region, religion, etc. and tried to eradicate the identity of the Oromo people in the idiom of Ethiopian unity, thus fostering instability, war and famine for over one century. The Oromo people were colonized during the last quarter of the nineteenth century by a black African nation - Abyssinia with the help of the European colonial powers of the day. During the same period, of course, the Somalis, Kenyans, Sudanese and others were colonized by European powers. The fact that the Oromo were colonized by black African nation makes their case quite special.

During the process of colonization between 1870 and 1900, the Oromo population was reduced from ten to five million. This period coincides with the occupation of Oromo land by the Abyssinian emperors Yohannes and Menilek. After colonization, these emperors and their successors upto Zenawi's EPRDF regime continued to treat Oromo with utmost cruelty. From the beginning of colonization many were killed by the colonial army and settlers, others died of famine and epidemics of various disease or were sold of as slaves. Those who remained on the land were reduced to the status of Gabbar (a peasant from whom labour and products is extracted cruelly) and is a crude form life is introduced to the Oromo people and their destiny. In all spheres of life discrimination, subjugation, repression, and exploitation of all forms were applied and continued until today under the arms of dictator Zenawi. Everything possible was done and being done to destroy Oromo identity - culture, language, custom, tradition, name, and origin. In short, the general policy of genocide against the Oromo people maintained till today from those days on ward to Zenawi's regime.

Today when nearly all the African peoples have won independence, the Oromo people continue to suffer under the most backward and savage Ethiopian settler colonialism. Although the Oromo nation is one of the largest in Africa, it is forgotten by or still unknown to most of the world today. Unfortunately, even the names Oromo and Oromia are unknown to many and this should not be allowed to continue. All genuinely democratic and progressive individual and groups who believe in peace, human dignity, liberty, equality, and security should support the Oromo struggle for liberation. This time is also a right time to understand the peace and security of the Oromo people is the base for peace and security in the whole horn of Africa.


Oromo Language

Although Oromo nation has been one of the largest ethnos nations in Ethiopia, the attention given to study their language particularly from historical aspect is remains minimal. Policy of marginalization was also exercised for the purpose of building a country of one language, religion and culture. Promotion for the language was inspected and strictly forbidden. Therefore, the Oromo language in general and written Oromo literature remained less studied. Until recently, Afaan Oromo lacked developed written literature and has insignificant written and printed materials. Inspite of this pressure, some literate Ethiopians, foreigners, religious men and sold Oromo slaves to Europe tried to document some sketches of Afaan Oromo whenever they got any opportunity they came across. These efforts enabled us to take down the origin of written Oromo literature down to 17th century. Let us first look at the early history of written Oromo Language up to 1900 before we theorize the current Oromo language development.

Literature is linguistically documented facts and ideas through which people used to preserve their deeds and worldviews from one generation to the other (Owamoyala, 1993). It is also important to note that one cannot separate language and culture from literature that define them. Language is therefore, a pedestal in the evolution of literature as it is one of the typical ingredients in one’s awareness of her/his culture, identity, custom and history. The sources to study the historical movements of human beings have come from the study of languages that were spoken by the preceding generations as a proto language. This is because, language harbors human culture, knowledge, arts, history and others (Isichei, 1995; Yule, 1996; Ehret, 2008). This is also true for Oromo language what the Oromo prefer to call Afaan Oromo (henceforth Afaan Oromo). Among the Cushitic language families to which it belongs, Afaan Oromo ranks first by the number of its speakers. It is the third among the widely spoken languages in Africa next to Swahili and Hausa Languages. It is a common language among many nationalities, like the Harare, Bartha, Shinahsa, Anuak, Sidama, Gurage (Mekuria, 1994), Koma, Yam, Kaficho, Dawuro, Gedeo, Konso, Somali, Afar, Amhara, and others (Feyisa, 1996). The indigenous speakers are uninterruptedly distributed from Southern Tigray in the North to Northern Kenya in the South, and from Harar in the East to Gidaamii in the West (Gada, 1998; Richard, 1995; Baxter, 1978). They form the largest homogenous culture sharing common descent, history and psychological makeup (Baxter, 1978). Geographically, except in the Northern, Afaan Oromo is found in Eastern, Southern, Central and Western Cushitic Language families by retaining its homogeneity. The Oromo of all these areas could communicate in this language without dialectical barriers (Ibid.). Despite these facts, it is denied official status and no comprehensive scholarly study conducted on it.

Afaan Oromoo, a highly developed spoken language, is at the top of the list' of the distinct and separate 1000 or so languages used in Africa. It is classified' as one of the Cushitic’s Languages spoken in the Ethiopian Empire, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Kenya. Of the Cushitic languages spoken in Ethiopia, Afaan Oromoo, Somali, Sidama, Haddiya, and Afar-Sabo are the languages with the greatest number of speakers Afaan Oromoo had remained essentially a well-developed oral tradition until the early 1970's when the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) began to use it as an official language in the liberated areas. Additionally, the Front adopted the Latin script as its official alphabet.


The adoption of a script for Afaan Oromoo has been a burning issue. In the 1970's both Sabean and Latin scripts were suggested. Until 1974when the Mengistu regime came to power, writing Afaan Oromoo in any script had been officially banned. Although Mengistu's regime lifted the ban and reluctantly allowed the use of the Sabean script, it continued to pay only lip service to Afaan Oromoo. OLF convened a meeting of Oromo scholars and intellectuals on November 3, 1991. The purpose of the meeting was to adopt the Latin script. The OLF had been using or suggest an alternative Over 1000 men and women attended the historic meeting which met in the Parliament Building in Finfinnee. 

After hours of discussions and deliberations, it was unanimously decided that the Latin script be adopted. Some of the reasons for this landmark decision are as follows: Linguistic Reasons: Writing' itself has passed through three stages of development before reaching the alphabet stage. The three stages, each of which are very briefly discussed below, are iconography, logography and Syllabary.

Iconography consist of drawings of animals or objects. The drawings were disconnected and fragmented, and they were intended to give merely a static impression. Later, standardized pictures were selected, arranged in a series, and were made to tell a story in the same way as today's action photographs do Iconography was common among North American Indian tribes. Logography is the use of signs to represent word. In English, for example, whole words such as one, two three and dollar are respectively represented by the signs 1,2,3 and $. Chinese, which uses a minimum of 4000 characters, is the only language that uses the logographic writing system today. Syllabary is a set of characters which represent syllables. A syllable is a part of a word in which a vowel sound is heard. For example, the Oromo word bilisummaa (freedom) has four syllables, namely, bi- Ii- su-, and –mmaa.  In a syllabary writing, each sign stands for a syllable of a consonant and vowel. From the point of view of a linguist who may wish to explicate the sounds of a language, one of the major drawbacks of syllabaric writing is that its characters do not represent the vowels and the consonants of a language separately.

For instance, the Latin alphabet was adapted to many languages such as the following: a. Germanic languages-English, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch; b Romance languages-Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian; c. Slavonic languages-Polish, Czech, Croatian, Slovene: d. Finno-Ugrian languages-i-Pinnish, Hungarian; e Baltic languages-Lithuanian, Lettish; f Quoc-ngu-Vietnamese; and g. It was adapted to Somali, Swahili and others. Qubee Afaan, Oromoo also aligned itself with so many countries that use Latin script One obvious advantage of this is that an Oromo child who has learned his own alphabet can learn, for example, the form of the English script in a relatively short period of time. Another practical reason is its alphabetic writing's adaptability to computer technology which gives it "an edge over even the simplest of syllabic writing.

The decision of using Latin Script was made after taking linguistic, pedagogic, and practical factors into accounts.  In other words: Global functional considerations suggest putting the Latin Alphabet at the top of the list. If familiarity with it is and emotional attachment are taken into consideration, it is likely that all conventional orthography would be ranked first by the people who use them."

The struggle the Oromo have made for self-determination has started to payoff. They have adapted the Latin alphabet to their language without fear of incrimination. It is now high time they began writing and producing useful reading materials for their schools and the public. The Oromo people have a highly developed oral tradition which, I myself believes, has contributed to the sharpening of their powers of memorization.

The development of Afaan Oromoo had been hindered by Abyssinian occupation of Oromiyaa. Hence for a long time, Afaan Oromoo had remained as a spoken language. Because of colonial occupation, the Abyssinians made it illegal and forbidden to write in Afaan Oromoo in any script, including in Sabean script. The early writing in the Oromo language began almost two centuries ago. It is the conquest of Oromiyaa by Abyssinia that interrupted its development into full-fledged writing instrument. Of the earliest writing was vocabulary of Oromo language in 1842 in Latin script by J. Ludwig Krapf, a German national. In 1899, Abba Onesimos Nasib (aka Abbaa Gammachiis) translated the Holy Bible into the Oromo language using Sabean script. In 1935, M. Mario Moreno, an Italian national wrote dictionary of Oromo language using the Latin script. In 1939, P. Gaetino da Thiene, a Catholic priest also wrote a dictionary of Oromo language in the Latin script. Between 1948 and 1953, Sheikh Bakeri developed a new script. All these significantly contributed to the search for Qubee.

The final breakthrough in the search for script for the Oromo language came towards the middle of 1960s and the beginning of 1970s, with a phonetic study of the Oromo language made by  Haile Fida, a brilliant Oromo scholar. Out of this study was produced an Oromo grammar book in Latin alphabet entitled, “Hirmaata dubbii Afaan Oromoo” in 1973 with Qubee and Oromo language grammatical rules such as long and short vowels - a single consonant for soft or double consonants for emphasis or stress of word – and more rules were published in Qubee and Afaan Oromoo. “Hirmaata dubbii Afaan Oromoo” was republished in 1979. This is the first systematically presented grammar book in Afaan Oromoo, written by an Oromo individual using Qubee.

This phase of Qubee in its context and use drew upon political implication. This is the Qubee known to us today. Later in 1970s, the OLF adopted it as Oromo alphabet. It was this Qubee that fundamentally changed the way the Oromo look at their own language. For the first time, Afaan Oromoo was transformed from a spoken language to a written language in a modern Qubee Latin Script. Ever since, it has become as an instrument of struggle in the Oromo’s quest for independence. As the OLF entered Finfinee in 1991 and Obboo Ibsaa Guutamaa became Minister of Education for Transitional Government from 1991 to 1992, the implementation and its practical application officially began. Obboo Ibsaa Guutamaa single-handedly, as Minister of Education, made Qubee to reach every Oromo schools in every corner of Oromiyaa as official alphabet of teaching and work. That is, millions of teaching copy books were published and millions of Oromo children were taught in it. Indeed, Qubee brought the irreversible conflict between Ethiopia and Oromiyaa. It may sound clichéd, but the plain truth is Qubee would not have been possible as a living Qubee today without the work of Dr. Haile Fida and its adaptation by the OLF and without Obboo Ibsaa Guutama becoming Minister of education to implement it in that shortest period.

In the development of Qubee, in 1982, Gene B. Gragg and Tarfa Kumsa, published Oromo Dictionary. Dr. Tilahun Gamta published Oromo-English Dictionary (1989) and Comprehensive Oromo-English Dictionary (2004), among many of his previous others writings. Dr. Tilahun Gamta is the most recognized prominent Oromo scholar and educator who pushed Qubee to its height not only as instrument of instruction, but also as instrument of political struggle. When the Oromos talk about Qubee, Dr. Tilahun Gamta comes to every Oromo’s mind. He stands the tallest among his peers. Because of his commitment and persistent and tireless work and campaign, Qubee is now what it is today. And Obboo Ahimad Muudee published English-Oromo Dictionary (1995). Obboo Abiyyuu Galataa published Galma Afaan Oromoo (1996). Obboo Ibsaa Guutamaa published Special Oromo Dictionary (2004). For this, the Oromo are grateful and indebted to the late Dr. Haile Fida, Obboo Ibsaa Guutamaa, Dr. Tilahun Gamta and Obboo Ahimad Muddee and Obboo Abiyyuu Galataa for their uniquely special contribution to the growth and development of Qubee and its practical implementation in making it a living Qubee. They are rightly the founding fathers of Qubee Oromo. Their works enabled the birth of the “Qubee generation” as we know it today. It is from the above historical development of Qubee that the Qubee Generation was born.

Recent sources are reveal the neglected history of Afaan Oromo under its past consecutive Ethiopian rulers. The attempts of the rulers to lock up Afaan Oromo’s outlets where they had been are now being wearied away by discovering of the sources which were masked by the scholars of Ethiopian history under the influences of her rulers. Jackson who made anthropological and historical studies of the civilizations of the Middle East and Northeast African states that Afaan Oromo is the purest living specimen of primitive Babylonian languages. He asserts that when the other languages have since been mixed up with other languages, Afaan Oromo in Ethiopia and Mahra in South Arabia have been able to maintain their purity without significant changes. As he put it:

In regard to the language of the primitive Babylonians, the vocabulary is undoubtedly Cushite (Cush Ethiopia), belong to that of tongue which in the sequel were everywhere more or less mixed up with the Semetic languages, but of which we have probably the purest modern specimens is the Mahra of South Arabia and the [Oromo] of Ethiopia (John G. Jackson, 1974)

Šihãb ad Din Ahmad bin Abd al-Qãder, Chronicler of Imam Ahmad bin Ibrahm al-Gahz and an Arab writer, indicates that the Yejjuu Oromo had been well established in Walloo before the war of Imam Ahmad bin Ibrahim alGahz. According to Šihãb ad Din, the Imam ordered his soldiers to speak only Yejjuu (Oromo) language as the area was populated by the Yejjuu Oromo. Even, the Imam recruited more than three thousand Yejjuu Oromo into his soldiers (Lester Stenhouse, 2003). This indicates that Afaan Oromo was a popular language in northern Ethiopia before the alleged Oromo expansion of the sixteenth century began. Similarly, Abbaa Bahrey (1993) who is said to have been the author of “Zenaw Lahula (Oromo)” written in 1593 employed many Oromo names and terminologies like Gadaa, Malbaa, Muudana, Tuulama, Maccaa, Galaan, Walaabuu and many cultural concepts. Moreover, the book leads us to raise an argument that there was at least one person who knew both Geez and Oromo languages to have produced the book. Otherwise, as Jan Vansina (1995) states it is difficult for someone to collect oral tradition of the society whose language he/ she did not know. At the very least, it would have been impossible to get oral information embodied in the book without Abbaa Bahrey’s using the services of Oromo with good knowledge of the Geez language. Whether Abbaa Bahrey knew Oromo or used the services of others, the literature of the book written by him is another instance of an indirect entrance of Oromo into written literature. Early Printed Sources of Written Oromo Language In the middle of seventeen century, Hiob Ludolf, in his linguistic production, wrote a few Oromo words with its parallel translation in Geez and Latin. According to Ludolf (1682), the Oromo words were told to him by Abbaa Gregory between 1652 and 1658 which again gives clue that Abbaa Gregory was well versed in Oromo language. This book in which Oromo words were written appeared in 1682. It is the first written words of the Oromo language we have at our disposal. James Bruce, who visited Ethiopia, did some work related to Afaan Oromo. (Jumce Bruce, No year of publication) In his journey to discover the Source of Blue Nile, Bruce had the opportunity to be among the Oromo of Walloo. Bruce was the first traveler and second European writer next to Hiob Ludolf to record the Oromo language in his account as one of the major languages he had come across. According to his report, he had wished to get ready made written literature for the languages; but he points out that he could not get even one because of the traditional law that forbade the translation of any religious documents into any language other than Geez (Ibid.). The act was religiously condemned and became immoral. As he puts it: …there is an old law in this country (Ethiopia), handed down by tradition only, that whoever should attempt to translate the holy scripture into Amharic, or any other language, his throat should be cut after the manner in which they kill sheep, his family sold to slavery, and his house razed to ground…it was great obstacle to me in getting those translations of the song of Solomon made which I intended for specimens of different language of those distinct relations (Ibid.). Daringly breaking that traditional law, he translated Solomon’s alleged praise for the Queen of Sheba into Afaan Oromo by using Geez characters on a page of his work. This is the second early tangible evidence of the beginning of writing in Afaan Oromo. Afaan Oromo was a palace language during the reign of Iyoas who was monolingual in Afaan Oromo (Richard Greenfield, 1965). The employment of 3,000 soldiers as palace guards (Tesfaye Zergaw, 2001; Trimngham, John, 1965) helped to make Afaan Oromo virtually the official language of the palace (Martial De Slavic, 2008).

The occupation of the position of Ras Bitwedid by the Yejjuu lords from the middle of 1770 onwards (Ibid.). Further exalted the use of Oromo language in the state system. On the other hand, many Oromos who were sold into slavery attempted to make Afaan Oromo popular under the opportunities got to be Christian preachers (Ibid.). Although the origin of Alaqa Zannab, Chronicler of emperor Tewodros, there were many freed Oromo slaves participated in the translation of the scripture before the popular Abba Gammachis (Onesmos Nasib), Zannab , Ruufoo, Waaree, Jagaa, Soolaan and Liban (Wolbert Smidt, 2002) are few among many.


The translation of the Scriptures into Oromo language continued. On June 30, 1877, Menilek ordered Alaqa Zannab to translate the books of Jeshewa, Judge Ruth, and Samuel to use the translation for himself for revision after Hebrew. However, the works did not see light of the day due to the death of Krapf, who used to publish Alaqa Zannab’s works, in 1881 and the unstable political situation between the interior and the coast. Nevertheless, R. Pankhurst, who has written about these materials, does not explain why Menilek II preferred Afaan Oromo to Amharic for the revision of the Hebrew Bible (Pankhurst, 1976). But the reason is clearly stated by Hudeson “It is a curious fact that, although so many of the great Abyssinian officers are pure [Oromo], and although nearly every Abyssinian know[s] [Oromo] as well as Amharic, yet they do not care to speak [Oromo] in public. This can only be ascribed to a kind of false pride, as in private they will talk it readily” (Hudeson and Walker, 1922). To have indigenous religious scholars who could study Oromo language scientifically and translate the religious scripture into the language, the Catholic missionaries invested lots of their efforts on Afaan Oromo. Abbaa Massaja intensively continued to request the opening of (Oromo) College in France. It was great for Massaja to get land for the construction of (Oromo) College on 18 January 1866 in Marseille. On 15th April, 1866, St. Michael Oromo College was officially inaugurated by Massaja Marseille, France. By February 1869, the college was reported to have enrolled about twenty-nine Oromo students collected especially from ransom slaves (Abba Antonios Alberto, 1998). For the first three years, the Oromo College was functional to teach theology and linguistics with the focus on Oromo language under the direction of Fr. Emanuel and Louis de Gonzangue Lassere.

However, it was unfortunate that the Oromo students of the College could not acclimatize well with the weather and many of them died (Ibid.). This forced Massaja to try to establish another College in the homeland of the students in order to fulfill the pastoral missions of the vicariate. Following his requests, the Capuchin of propaganda Fide allowed Massaja to build another (Oromo) College in the Oromo country in 1868. As soon as he received the letter of permission, Massaja left for Shawaa accompanied by his four Marseille Oromo students and instructors. After forty-eight days of tiresome journey, they reached Liche, the king’s court at the time on March 11, 1868 (Ibid.). Based on Menilek’s advice Massaja sent Fr. Tuarin, the vice-perfect of the mission to Finfinnee with some of the Oromo students on 11 September 1868. Immediately they began constructing Catholic Church of St. Marry at Birbirsaa (Capital city of Oromia, Ethiopia) with the assistance of some Oromo people (Ibid.). Birbirsaa (Oromo) College was officially inaugurated on 25 July 1869. The former instructor of the Marseille Oromo College, Fr. Emanuel and Fr. Louis de’ Gonzague were sent to teach at the college but Fr. Emanuel died on the way to Shawa. Louis de’ Gonzague became the director of (Oromo) college of Birbirsaa in 1873 (Ibid.). At this College, Fr. Tuarin prepared religious texts in Oromo language for church and academic services. Attempts were made to produce religious and academic literature both in Oromo language (Ibid.). At the college, many recruits and some freed Oromo slaves, enrolled and became literate. The trained Oromo also participated in productions and translations of Oromo language literature as both writers and assistants to the foreigners. Nonetheless, the progress of Catholic Missionaries’ expansion and its roles in the development of written Oromo literature were impeded by Emperor Yohannes’s suspicious policy of king Menilek’s secrete contact with the Europeans. Yohannes feared that Menilek might have earned ample firearms through the contact.

Consequently, Yohannes ordered Menilek to stop contacting Europeans independently and the two sealed this in one of the articles of the Liche Agreement signed in 1878. The agreement forced Menilek to expel Europeans including all the Catholic missionaries from Shawaa. (Elio Ficquet, 2003) After thirty years of evangelical activity and Oromo language study in Ethiopia, Massaja was expelled (Tewelde Beyene, 2003). The mission station and the (Oromo) College of Birbirsaa had to close down. In 1897, the St. George Church was built on the site of the college by the order of Menilek (Alberto, 1998). Despite these challenges and obstacles, the catholic missionaries had never given up their mission of evangelizing the Oromo and translating books into Oromo language. Mgr. Cahagne, who became Vicariate Apostolic of the Oromo following the resignation of Massaja on 3 October 1879, designed another way to enter the Oromo land. Mgr. Cahagne and his compatriots were able to pass through Zeila and established themselves at Harar in 1881. In Harar, they established two schools; one for freed slaves and the other for missionaries. In both schools Afaan Oromo and Arabic languages were intensively given. Fr. Andre Jarosseau was busy in studying Afaan Oromo and Arabic in Harar during 1882- 1883, which could be a key for his future apostolate among the Oromo. (Kevin, O’Mahone, and Wolbert Smidt, 2003). Parallel with the establishment Oromo College and missionary station, the Catholic Missionaries embarked on collecting Oromo words, studying its grammar.

They also translated their religious scriptures into Oromo language. In addition to the 1853 of catechism translation, Abbaa Jacob had translated the gospel of Matthew into Oromo language. He published the book which was 135 pages long at the printing house of Banasfus in Carcassonne in 1900. The main constituent of the translation is 28 chapters of Matthew, Morning and Evening Prayers, Revelation of Sin, and the Ten Commandments. Like his translation of 1853, the book has the problem of precise representation of Oromo sounds which is difficult only for the non-native learners but also for the natives themselves. His orthographical usage is based on the accent of French language. Otherwise, Jacobi had the concept of Oromo words that are long or stressed (Abba Antonios Alberto, 1998). The attempt of translating and composing Oromo language continued. In 1887, Ettore Viterbo an Italian scholar published Afaan Oromo grammar in Italian language under the title Grammatica Della Lingua Oromonica in Ermanno.

The grammar consists of about 397 pages majority of which is devoted to the discussion in Italian language. The first hundred pages are devoted to Oromo grammar, from 103- 266 to Oromo-Italian and from 267-397 to Italian Oromo vocabularies whereas the rest is left for Kaficho, Yem and the other Southern nations’ grammar. In the book Oromo words, phrases and sentences written in Latin script are cited as an example under each explanation of the grammar with it transcriptions into Italy. As he states in his grammar, his Oromo-Italian and Italian-Oromo bilingual vocabularies were aimed at easing two-way translations that was to benefit both the Oromo and Italian speakers. (Abune Jacobi, 1900) Nonetheless, as his approach of both the grammar and the vocabularies orthographic representation of Oromo sounds are the corruptions of Italian sounding system that it is difficult to pronounce Oromo words correctly for both the Oromo and nonnatives. Similarly, Franz Praetorius a German scholar, published Zur Grammaticka der Gallasparche in 1893 in Berlin. Praetorius’ 130 pages of Oromo grammar in Germany employed Geez script for the Oromo words, phrases and sentences cited in the book to show the practicality of the discussion. (Franz Praetorius, 1993) In this grammar, the focus he made on Oromo language is not worth as most part of the account is left for the German.

To be continued….


Why Afaan Oromoo as another federal working language in Ethiopia? By  Milkessa Midega

I targeted Afaan Oromoo for the fact that it is the largest mother tongue in Ethiopia spoken by 50% of the country’s population followed by Amharic which is spoken by 29%, according to a 2007 report by the Central Statistic Authority (CSA). Other non-Amharic languages might be researched for similar reason. Accordingly, below is the a quick list of the top 23 justifications for considering Afaan Oromoo as the other working language of the federal government of Ethiopia.

The first (1) is the right to non-discrimination at the hands of the state due to language, which is stipulated in Art. 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right and Art, 1 of the Convention against Discrimination in Education of 1960.

(2) the rights of individuals belonging to linguistic minorities to participate effectively according to Art 2 of the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities.

(3) collective equality of linguistic groups.

(4) for the state legitimacy purpose (Turgeon and Gagnon, 2013).

(5) symbolic social identity (primordial benefit) of the working language choice.

(6) demographic factor: the numerical size of the speakers of a certain language in proportion to the whole population (sliding scale model) is the most frequent reason (See, for example, a memorandum signed between the Union and individual States of India in 1956; See also Part IV of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, 1992).

(7) tax consequences of language choice: the state has the burden to exactly compensate those who must learn the chosen language (in terms of time, money and moral) through negative taxes (receive a subsidy) (Pool, 1991).

(8) to rectify historical linguistic central injustices which promised that “We, the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia… Fully cognizant that our common destiny can best be served by rectifying historically unjust relationships” (Preamble of the Constitution).

(9) power sharing requires language: The composition of the federal leadership has to reflect the diverse society it claims to represent.

(10) to enhance national consensus and unity, and discourage separatist nationalism.

(11) freedom of expression aspect of federal language choice: The right to express opinion freely implies the right to do so in the language of one’s own choice in accordance with Art 19, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

(12) mass media consequences of federal language choice: the chosen language will be given a favor (through the state subsidy and private business preferences) in broadcasting media, print media and online media.

(13) language is part of the medication. The language in which patients are treated in federal hospitals matters.

(14) for the purpose of democratic participation: “Where political debate is conducted in the selected language, the speakers of other languages are at a disadvantage” (Patten & Kymlicka, 2003).

(15) federal language choice has federal culture choice implication. Language carries culture. Take for instance music programs of federal media such as ETV (now EBC) and FM 97.1.

(16) the economic contribution of linguistic groups: Major sources of incomes including drinking water.

(17) geographical settlement and geopolitical significance of the language (Kebede, 2005).

(18) it is an opportunity for non-Afaan Oromoo speakers who want to learn Afaan Oromoo and wish to integrate into and work in the regional state of Oromia (for both public and private purposes).

(19) trans-national reasons: Afaan Oromoo is the third largest indigenous mother tongue in Africa (Mohammed, 2010).

(20) civil service employment reason: everywhere the working language is the property of those who use it as a mother tongue or who can learn to use it as well (Weinstein, 1983); See also Federal Civil Service Employment Reports). Restricted participation eventually means that one group is dominated by another.

(21) material or wealth consequences of language: disagreement over the working language is “a disagreement about who shall participate in power, wealth and prestige” in a given jurisdiction (Weinstein, 1983: 15).

(22) the capital (seat) of the Federal Government is located in the state of Oromia whose working language is Afaan Oromoo. This capital is also the capital of the Oromia regional state. 

(23) experiences of multilingual countries: federal working languages of Canada are two, Switzerland (three), Belgium (three), South Africa (eleven), India (two), Singapore (four), Fiji (three), Nigeria (one foreign language), and Cameron (opts for two foreign languages).