Tigrinya Language: Interesting Facts & Resources

Today the spotlight is on Tirgrinya! We’ve gathered background information and interesting facts about the language. You can also check out our newest children’s books available in Tigrinya.

Where is Tigrinya spoken?

Roughly 9.85 million people speak Tigrinya worldwide. The majority of that population is located in Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, and parts of Sudan. Previously, we identified Amharic as Ethiopia’s national language and Tigrinya is the country’s fourth most spoken language. However, in Eritrea, the majority of people speak Tigrinya, with about 50% identifying it as their mother tongue. Outside of northeast Africa, there are small pockets of Tigrinya speakers living in the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Australia. In fact, Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service offers public radio broadcasting in Tigrinya.

The Origin and Evolution of Tigrinya

Tigrinya is a Semitic language. Semitic languages are a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum and are spoken by roughly 330 million people throughout North Africa and Southwest Asia. However, Tigrinya takes many loanwords from both Arabic and Italian. The addition of these loanwords resulted from the prevalence of Islam in Eritrea and Italy’s colonization of the region prior to World War II. More recently, Tigrinya is adopting more English loanwords.

Interesting Facts About Tigrinya

You can say “Hello” in Tigrinya by saying Selam or writing:    ሰላም፡፡ 

The name of the capital city Asmara comes from “Arbate Asmara,” meaning the “four women made them unite.” This name comes from a local legend about four different tribes who needed to unify in order to defend their land from outsiders. One female representative from each tribe met to discuss unity and quickly came to an agreement. In order to honor their decision, it was decided the newly unified village would be called “Arbate Asmara.”

In Logo Sarda, a district of Akele Guzai region in Eritrea, there is the earliest evidence of written Tigrinya. The text is of local customary laws which date back to the 13th century.

Tigrinya is written in the “Ge’ez” script. This script is an alphasyllabary within which consonant-vowel sequences are written as a unit. Altogether, the language includes 26 consonantal letters.

While Tigrinya is a language, the term can also be used to refer to an ethnic group in Eritrea. It is understood that the Tigrinyas, Tigre, and Tigrayans all originated from the same group until the 8th century.

Tigrinya Books – Bilingual Children’s Books

If you interact with children who speak Tigrinya, or are learning the language, you may want suggestions on some of the best bilingual children’s books. The Living in Harmony series is a useful resource to discuss universal themes of kindness and respect while learning about a new culture.

Are you interested in learning about other languages as well?  Check out our series of posts on world languages, including Hmong, Cherokee, Amharic, and Russian!

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