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Onesimos Nasib’s pioneering contributions to Oromo writing

Published in 1995, Bulcha, Mekuria, Nordic Journal of African Studies - Archived on May 9th, 2015

Title: Onesimos Nasib’s pioneering contributions to Oromo writing
Author: Mekuria Bulcha (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Published: Nordic Journal of African Studies Vol. 4, No. 1, 1995, pp. 36-59
Language: English
Keywords: Onesimos Nasib, Afan Oromo

Linguists tell us that the Oromo language also referred to as afaan Oromoo or Oromiffaa with its more than 20 million speakers is the second most widely spread indigenous language in Africa. More than two-thirds of the speakers of the Cushitic languages are Oromo or speak afaan Oromoo, which is also the third largest Afro-Asiatic language in the world (Gragg 1982). In spite of its importance as a vernacular widely spoken in the Horn of Africa afaan Oromoo lacks today a developed literature. Both the cultural history of the Oromo people and the language policy of the Ethiopian government were suggested to be responsible for this state of affairs.

In this paper I maintain that, although some basic literature existed in afaan Oromoo for the last 100 years, as the Oromo were colonized, they were (and still are) not given the chance to build on the literary foundations that were laid down during the last two decades of the 19th century.

To illustrate my argument, I describe Onesimos Nasib’s contribution to Oromo literature, and the efforts he made to spread literacy and modern education in Oromoland at the beginning of this century. I discuss also, albeit briefly, the reactions that the works of Onesimos aroused among the Abyssinian nobility and clergy and the resultant language policy that suppressed development of literacy in afaan Oromoo and the other Cushitic and Omotic languages. The approach in this paper is socio-historical as well as socio-linguistic.

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Ethiopian Language Policy and Health Promotion in Oromia

Published in 2006, Dugassa, Begna F., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare - Archived on May 5th, 2015

Title: Ethiopian Language Policy and Health Promotion in Oromia
Author: Begna F. Dugassa (Toronto Public Health, Toronto, Canada)
Published: Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare Vol.1, No.2, 2011, pp. 55-64
Language: English
Keywords: public health, Ethiopia, health policy, health education, Oromia, colonial language policies

In the time of HIV/AIDS, epidemics for which we have no vaccination or cure, public health is bound entirely to depend on the traditional health education strategies to stop or contain this disease. This reality demands that we travel extra miles and thoroughly employ every health promotion tool at our disposal. The Ottawa Charter for health promotion stressed the need for public policy to create supportive social conditions for health. This necessitates a commitment to enduring social conditions for health and raises topics that have been neglected by the traditional public health scholars. A close examination of the colonial language policy of Ethiopia reveals that language is not value free and is intermingled with power and has significant public health impacts. In this paper, I critically examine Ethiopian language policy within the framework of health promotion and demonstrate the ways in which such policy creates a barrier for the Oromo people in making life choices. Additionally it hinders them from ensuring the conditions in which they can be healthy. This paper addresses a gap in the research literature on the impacts of colonial language policies on health promotion.

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The politics of language and representative bureaucracy in Ethiopia: the case of Federal Government

Published in 2015, Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, Midega, Milkessa - Archived on February 20th, 2015

Title: The politics of language and representative bureaucracy in Ethiopia: the case of Federal Government
Author: Milkessa Midega (Dire Dawa University, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia)
Published: Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, Vol. 7, No. 1 (2015), pp. 15-23.
Language: English
Keywords: Federal bureaucracy, official working language, representation

Building an inclusively representative and equitable bureaucracies in a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural polity is a challenging phenomenon. Being on of such polities, Ethiopia embarked upon multinational federal nation-building policy exactly two decades ago through a constitutional reform. Accordingly, nine regional states’ and two chartered cities’ bureaucracies were established besides the federal bureaucracy. It is obvious that, in addition to professionalism, civil service jobs generally require knowledge of certain official working language. Regions have chosen their own official working languages for their respective civil service institutions which have been reiterated as the major opportunity brought by the multinational federal policy of the country. This paper emphasizes on the bureaucracies of the Federal Government where Amharic is retained as the sole working language. From the outset, we ask questions: How could it be possible to build representative civil service institutions in multilingual polities? What are the roles of federal restructuring and official working language? What are the challenges that Ethiopia is facing at the federal level in terms of building a representative bureaucracy? This piece uses governmental reports of five years (2003-2008) and other theoretical literature to lay out Ethiopia’s (re)quest for building equitable federal bureaucracies. Overall, the finding show that, even though it may be different for political positions: the Amharic monolingual language policy of the federal government has ensured inequitable access to the federal civil service institutions, thereby posing challenges to the constitutional vision of building equitable and multicultural bureaucracy.

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The Politicization of My Oromo-English Dictionary: The Writer’s Reflections

Published in 2000, Gamta, Tilahun, Journal of Oromo Studies - Archived on November 7th, 2014

Title: The Politicization of My Oromo-English Dictionary: The Writer’s Reflections
Author: Tilahun Gamta (Xiilaahun Gamtaa) (Formerly, Addis Ababa University)
Published: Journal of Oromo Studies, Vol. 7, No.’s 1&2 (2000), pp. 1-17.
Language: English
Keywords: Literature, Mass Media and the Press, Afan Oromo, syllabary, Qubee, alphabet

Many Oromos wonder how I was able to write and publish The Oromo-English Dictionary (OED) in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s regime, a regime that had been openly hostile to the Oromo nation. Here, I offer my reflections on the writing of the work and some of the difficulties encountered in publishing it.

Before I began writing the OED on May 1, 1980, I had leaked out news that I was in the process of writing an Amharic-Oromo-English trilingual dictionary. Some of my Abyssinian colleagues at Addis Ababa University (AAU) were more excited about the idea than I was. The appearance of “Amharic,” though ostensible, at the beginning of the trilingual dictionary probably explains why they showered good wishes upon me. Very soon, my name and the title of the elusive project appeared in one of Addis Ababa University’s research news bulletins. To complete this ‘ingenious’ project without any difficulty, I was advised to submit a research proposal so that I could be entitled to a grant and a reduced teaching load. I thanked my enthusiastic Abyssinian friends and tacitly ignored the suggestion because I did not want to commit myself, in writing, to undertake the so-called ingenious project.

I believe that the regime’s ubiquitous security members took my story on trust because, after the news release, I could move about freely and mingle with Oromos with whom I had parted company at my village (Bure) when I was about thirteen years old. Thus, I was able to refresh my memory of how our people in the rural areas still speak Afaan Oromo, the Oromo language, in spite of one hundred years of the flagrant policy of suppression by the Abyssinian colonizers of Oromiyaa.

I visited Arsi, Baale, Gamu Goofaa, Goojjam, Harar, Kafaa, Shaggar, Sidaamo, Wallaggaa, and Wallo. I did not have to visit Ilu Abbaa Booraa, my birthplace. Due to my own reasons, I could not go to Tigray to interview Raayyaa, Azabo, and Waajiraat Oromos, either. However, I stayed in Waldiyaa, Wallo, overnight, where I had an opportunity to chat with an elderly Raayyaa Oromo. Despite a minor difference in our pronunciation, kaleesha/kaleessa (yesterday), for instance, we could understand each other very easily. After he told me, with a clear expression of concern on his handsome face, that the younger generation must be taught Afaan Oromo and be urged to use it, he said nagaatti (good bye) and left. In addition, when I was attending a conference in Nairobi in 1972, I had the opportunity to gauge the situation in Kenya where about half a million Oromos live. After these visits, I concluded that the pronunciation used by Oromos in both Oromiyaa and Kenya is almost identical at the lexical level. The then rampant and alarming rumor that there were wide regional variations in Afaan Oromo, I became convinced, was baseless.

As already stated, I began writing the OED on May 1, 1980, three years after I had witnessed the Red Terror which wreaked havoc on those suspected of having any affiliation with a party whose views were out of favor. 1 saw corpses lying about in the streets of Finfinne (the city renamed “Addis Ababa” after the colonization of Oromo country). I saw corpses being shoveled out of dump trucks and strewn on the sidewalks for all to see and presumably with the message that they should behave themselves! I saw boys, girls, young/old men and women thrown out of speeding military jeeps and shot dead.

There were two primary reasons for attempting to write this one-man, bilingual dictionary. First, confident that almost everybody in the Empire had cowered in the aftermath of the brutal Red Terror, Mengistu’s dictatorial regime sped up its literacy campaign in the name of socialism and communism. The tacit policy of the campaign was not only to discourage the spread of English but also to thrust the Amharic language down the throats of every nation/nationality in the Ethiopian Empire. The unsuspecting victims of this tacit policy were beguiled into believing that fifteen languages (of the total 80 or so languages in the Empire) were selected and were being used to promote literacy. In my view as a linguist, this position amounted to propaganda. To give credence to its propaganda, the regime allowed the distribution of literature written in the Amharic script in areas where the fifteen languages (representing over 90% of the population) are spoken. The Amharic syllabary, which cannot be adapted to writing the Kushitic languages, was a fiasco. Kushitic people could not crack what appeared as a strange-looking code in which their respective languages were written. In other words, they simply could not understand the reading matter the regime sent to their respective regions. Neither could they cope with learning about 280 Amharic characters as compared to about 35 Latin symbols required to write, if adapted carefully, most Kushitic languages.

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Restored 1842 English-Afan Oromo Dictionary

Published in 1842, Dictionary, Isenberg, Charles W., Krapf, Johann Ludwig - Archived on January 13th, 2013

Note: Repost due to server data loss.


The following is a restored version of the English-Afan Oromo Dictionary, collected and compiled by The Reverend J. L. Krapf (Johann Ludwig Krapf), and published in London in 1842. The Rev. J. L. Krapf originally compiled the dictionary as a German-Afan Oromo dictionary; and it was later translated from German to English by The Rev. Charles W. Isenberg, who added some Amharic words in the dictionary.

Title: Vocabulary of the Oromo Language
Authors: Johann Ludwig Krapf and Charles W. Isenberg
Published: Dictionary, 1842
Language: Afan Oromo, English
Keywords: Language, Afan Oromo, English, Dictionary

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Note: The dictionary also has some Amharic words.

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