RESOURCES FOR LEARNING GE'EZ: THE CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF ETHIOPIA

RESOURCES FOR LEARNING GE'EZ-- THE CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF ETHIOPIA

October 25, 2011

1: Tackle the Script

The Ge'ez / Ethiopic script can be a little intimidating at first -- in my experience, the best strategy is to just dive in. Don't get bogged down with the details yet, try to grasp the fuller picture of how the graphemes work and soon enough it'll all start making sense, and become intuitive.

Here's a table of the twenty-six Ethiopic letters, in traditional order, with their approximate Hebrew and Arabic equivalents. I've included a column to indicate how these letters are typically pronounced nowadays -- note that the emphatics are pronounced like ejectives

h
ه
ה
/h/
k
ك
כ
/k/
l
ل
ל
/l/
w
و
ו
/w/
ح
/ħ/
ɔ
ع
ע
/ʕ/
m
م
מ
/m/
z
ز
ז
/z/
š
ش
ש
//
y
ي
י
/j/
r
ر
ר
/r/
d
د
ד
/d/
s
س
ש
/s/
g
ג
/g/
ق
ק
/k’/
ط
ט
/t’/
b
ب
ב
/b/
p̣
/p’/
t
ت
ת
/t/
ص
ס
/ts/
x
خ
ח
/x/
ض
צ
/ds/
n
ن
נ
/n/
f
ف
פ
/f/
'
ء
א
/ə/
p
פ
/p/

Each letter has seven permutations, one for each of the seven vowels. I wouldn’t suggest memorizing each form - these permutations follow very predictable patterns, here's an overview:

1. The Schwa “e” as in “herd” - /ə/ (sometimes transliterated as <ä>)
This vowel is contained within the base form of the letter:
 - ke //  - he //  - me //  - ze //  - ge


2. The Vowelless or Neutral “ə” as in “roses” - /ɨ/
This vowel is indicated by some kind of flourish on the top-left of the base form.
 - kə //  - hə //  - mə // ዝ - zə //  - 
This marker usually means the consonant has no vowel sound - especially at the end of a word, or syllable. In some cases, like the word "Ge'ez" (ግዕዝ), the neutral vowel is pronounced. 


3. The Low “A” as in “far” - /a/
This vowel is indicated by an extension on the right of the base form.
 - ka //  - ha // ማ - ma // ዛ - za // ጋ - ga


4. The Acute “é” as in “train”, “late”, “feign” - /e/ (often pronounced like "ie" as in "sierra" or "piano"
This vowel is indicated by a circle on the bottom-right of the base form.
ኬ - ké / ሄ - hé / ሜ - mé / ዜ - zé / ጌ - gé


5. The High “i" as in “speed” - /i/
This vowel is indicated by a tail on the bottom-right of the base form.
 - ki //  - hi //  - mi //  - zi //  - gi


6. The High “u” as in mood - /u/
This vowel is indicated by a tail on the right of the base form.
 - ku //  - hu // ሙ -mu //  - zu //  - gu


7. The Mid “o” as in cold- /o/
This vowel is usually indicated by an extension on the left of the base form.
 - ko //  - ho //  - mo //  - zo // ጎ -go

8. The Labial “u” as in quota or quart - /w/
This pseudo-vowel is indicated by a circle on the right of the base form.
 - kw //  - gw



Here's a link to see how these forms are handwritten. Remember, Ge’ez is written from left to right. Words in a sentence are separated by a sign that resembles a colon – (፡) Sentences end with this sign doubled – () Now that you are familiar with the various forms, look at these words:
በቀዳሚ : be-qedami (in-the-beginning)

ቀዳሚሁ : qedami-hu (at-first)
ሰማየ semaye (the-sky)
ዘበስማያት : ze-be-semayat (who-is-in-the-skies)



ገብረ : gebre (he-created)
 is unvowelled since it’s followed by a vowelled letter
ብርሃነ bərhane (the-light)
 is vowelled since it’s followed by an unvowelled letter.



እግዚኣብሔር : əgziabḥér (God)


Now have a look at these verses:
በቀዳሚ፡ገብረ፡እግዚኣብሔር፡ሰማየ፡ወምድረ።
beqedami gebre əgziabḥér semaye wemdərə (Gen. 1:1)


ወይቤ፡እግዚኣብሔር፡ለይኩን፡ብርሃነ፡ወኮነ፡ብርሃነ።
weybé əgziabḥér leykun bərhane wekone bərhane (Gen. 1:2)


ቀዳሚሁ፡ቃል፡ውእቱ፡ወውእቱ፡ቃል፡ኀበ፡እግዚኣብሔር፡ውእቱ
qedamihu qal wə`ətu wewə`ətu qal xebe əgziabḥér (John 1:1)

3 comments:

  1. I love what you are doing but there seems to be a mistake with the Hebrew, Ge'ez and Arabic match-up.
    sorry about the formating.
    - አ /ʔ/א - ا
    - በ /b/בּ - ب
    - /bv/ב -
    - /ɣ/ג - غ -
    - ገ - /ɡ/גּ -
    - /ð/ד - ذ
    - ደ - /d/דּ – د
    - ፀ /dˤ/צ` - ض (Judo-Arabic)
    - ሀ /h/ה - ه
    - ወ /w/ו - و
    - ዘ /z/ ז - ز
    - ሐ /ħ/ ח - ح - 7
    - ጠ /tˤ/ט - ط
    - የ /j/י - ي
    - ኀ /x/כ/ך - خ-
    - ከ /k/כּ/ ךּ - ك
    - ለ /l/ל - ل
    - መ /m/מ/ם - م
    - ነ /n/נ/ן – ن
    - ሰ
    - /s/ס - س
    - ዐ /ʕ/ע - ع -
    - ፈ /f/פ/ף- ف
    - ፐ /p/פּ
    - ጰ /pˤ/ פּ`(If i used the same logic of Judeo Arabic)
    - ጸ /sˤ/צ - ص -
    - ቀ /q/ק - ق -
    - ረ /r/ר - ر
    - ሠ /ʃ/ שׁ - ش
    - /s/שׂ - س
    - ተ /t/ תּ - ت
    - /θ/ת - ث

    ReplyDelete
  2. The work is outstanding. But i feel like there are some missing letters in the series like, ጨ(che), ቸ (ce), ሸ (she),,,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here we are reviewing Ge'ez and you are talking about additional sillabic signs for Amharic.

      Delete

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