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ግዕዝ Gəʽ(ə)z
Native toEritrea, Ethiopia
ExtinctBefore 10th century to 14th century[1][2]
Remains in use as a liturgical language.[3]
Geʽez script
Official status
Official language in
Liturgical language of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Catholic Church,[3] Ethiopian Catholic Church, and Beta Israel[4]
Language codes
ISO 639-2gez
ISO 639-3gez
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Ezana stone, written in Ge'ez explaining his conquests and accomplishments

Geʽez (/ˈɡɛz/[5][6] or /ɡˈɛz/;[7][8] ግዕዝ Gəʽ(ə)z[9][10][11][12] IPA: [ˈɡɨʕ(ɨ)z] , and sometimes referred to in scholarly literature as Classical Ethiopic) is an ancient South Semitic language. The language originates from what is now northern Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Today, Geʽez is used as the main liturgical language of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Ethiopian Catholic Church, Eritrean Catholic Church, and the Beta Israel Jewish community.

Hawulti Obelisk is an ancient pre-Aksumite Obelisk located in Matara, Eritrea. The monument dates to the early Aksumite period and bears the oldest known example of the ancient Geʽez script.

In one study, Tigre was found to have a 71% lexical similarity to Ge'ez, while Tigrinya had a 68% lexical similarity to Geʽez, followed by Amharic at 62%.[13] Most linguists believe that Geʽez does not constitute a common ancestor of modern Ethio-Semitic languages but became a separate language early on from another hypothetical unattested common language.[14][15][16]



Geʽez vowels
  Front  Central Back
Close /i/ i /ɨ/ ə /u/ u
Mid /e/ e /o/ o
Near-open /æ ~ ɐ/[a] a
Open /a ~ ɑ/[b] ā
  1. ^ /æ/ in the Amharic liturgical pronunciation,[17] or /ɐ/[18] (as in Tigrinya).
  2. ^ According to Lambdin.[19]

Historically, /ɨ/ has a basic correspondence with Proto-Semitic short *i and *u, ~ ɐ/ with short *a, the vowels /i, u, a/ with Proto-Semitic long *ī, *ū, *ā respectively, and /e, o/ with the Proto-Semitic diphthongs *ay and *aw.[20][21] In Geʽez there still exist many alternations between /o/ and /aw/, less so between /e/ and /aj/, e.g. ተሎኩ taloku ~ ተለውኩ talawku ("I followed").[22]

In the transcription employed by the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, which is widely employed in academia, the contrast here represented as a/ā is represented as ä/a.



Geʽez is transliterated according to the following system (see the phoneme table below for IPA values):

translit. h l m ś r s q b t n ʼ
translit. k w ʽ z y d g f p

Because Geʽez is no longer spoken in daily life by large communities, the early pronunciation of some consonants is not completely certain. Gragg writes that "[t]he consonants corresponding to the graphemes ś (Geʽez ) and (Geʽez ) have merged with ሰ and ጸ respectively in the phonological system represented by the traditional pronunciation—and indeed in all modern Ethiopian Semitic. ... There is, however, no evidence either in the tradition or in Ethiopian Semitic [for] what value these consonants may have had in Geʽez."[23]

A similar problem is found for the consonant transliterated . Gragg notes that it corresponds in etymology to velar or uvular fricatives in other Semitic languages, but it is pronounced exactly the same as in the traditional pronunciation. Though the use of a different letter shows that it must originally have had some other pronunciation, what that pronunciation was is not certain.[24]

The chart below lists /ɬ/ and /t͡ɬʼ/ as possible values for ś () and () respectively. It also lists /χ/ as a possible value for (). These values are tentative, but based on the reconstructed Proto-Semitic consonants that they are descended from.

Phonemes of Geʽez[edit]

The following table presents the consonants of the Geʽez language. The reconstructed phonetic value of a phoneme is given in IPA transcription, followed by its representation in the Geʽez script and scholarly transliteration.

Geʽez consonants[25]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
central lateral plain labialized
Nasal /m/ m /n/ n
voiceless /p/ p /t/ t /k/ k /kʷ/ /ʔ/ ʼ
voiced /b/ b /d/ d /g/ g /gʷ/
emphatic[a] // /t’/ /t͡sʼ/ /t͡ɬʼ/ /k’/ q /kʷ/
Fricative voiceless /f/ f /s/ s /ɬ/ ś /x/ /xʷ/ ḫʷ /ħ/ /h/ h
voiced /z/ z /ʕ/ ʽ
Approximant /r/ r /l/ l /j/ y /w/ w
  1. ^ The emphatic consonants of Geʽez were likely realized as ejectives, as in the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages.

Geʽez consonants in relation to Proto-Semitic[edit]

a verse from Psalm written in Geʽez
A verse from the book of Psalms written in Geʽez

Geʽez consonants have a triple opposition between voiceless, voiced, and ejective (or emphatic) obstruents. The Proto-Semitic "emphasis" in Geʽez has been generalized to include emphatic /pʼ/. Geʽez has phonologized labiovelars, descending from Proto-Semitic biphonemes. Geʽez ś Sawt (in Amharic, also called śe-nigūś, i.e. the se letter used for spelling the word nigūś "king") is reconstructed as descended from a Proto-Semitic voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ]. Like Arabic, Geʽez merged Proto-Semitic š and s in (also called se-isat: the se letter used for spelling the word isāt "fire"). Apart from this, Geʽez phonology is comparably conservative; the only other Proto-Semitic phonological contrasts lost may be the interdental fricatives and ghayn.


There is no evidence within the script of stress rules in the ancient period, but stress patterns exist within the liturgical tradition(s). Accounts of these patterns are, however, contradictory. One early 20th-century account[26] may be broadly summarized as follows:

  • primary stress only falls on the ultima (the last syllable) or the penult (the second-to-last syllable)
  • in finite verbs (including the imperative), stress falls on the penult: ቀተለት qatálat ("she killed"), ንግር nə́gər ("speak!", masculine singular), with the important exception of the 2nd-person feminine plural suffix ክን -kə́n
  • in nouns and adjectives (in citation form), and most adverbs, stress falls on the ultima: ንጉሥ nəgúś ("king"), ሀገር hagár ("city"), ግዕዝ Gə́ʽz ("Geʽez"), ጠቢብ ṭabíb ("wise"), ህየ həyyá ("there"); an exception among adverbs is ዝየ zə́ya ("here")
  • the suffix -a, marking the construct state or the accusative case (or both), is not stressed: ንጉሠ nəgúśa, ሀገረ hagára, ግዕዘ Gə́ʽza, ጠቢበ ṭabíba
  • cardinal numbers are stressed on the ultima, even in the accusative, e.g. ሠለስቱ śalastú accusative ሠለስተ śalastá ("three")
  • pronouns have rather unpredictable stress, so stress is learned for each form
  • enclitic particles (such as -(ə)ssá) are stressed
  • various grammatical words (short prepositions, conjunctions) and short nouns in the construct state are unstressed

As one example of a discrepancy, a different late 19th-century account[27] says the masculine singular imperative is stressed on the ultima (e.g. ንግር nəgə́r, "speak!"), and that, in some patterns, words can be stressed on the third-, fourth- or even fifth-to-last syllable (e.g. በረከተ bárakata).

Due to the high predictability of stress location in most words, textbooks, dictionaries and grammars generally do not mark it. Minimal pairs do exist, however, such as yənaggərā́ ("he speaks to her", with the pronoun suffix -(h)ā́ "her") vs. yənaggə́rā ("they speak", feminine plural), both written ይነግራ.[21]



Geʽez distinguishes two genders, masculine and feminine, the latter of which is sometimes marked with the suffix -t, e.g. እኅት ʼəxt ("sister"). These are less strongly distinguished than in other Semitic languages, as many nouns not denoting humans can be used in either gender: in translated Christian texts there is even a tendency for nouns to follow the gender of the noun with a corresponding meaning in Greek.[28]

There are two numbers, singular and plural. The plural can be constructed either by suffixing ኣት -āt to a word (regardless of gender, but often ኣን -ān if it is a male human noun), or by using an internal plural.[29]

  • Plural using suffix: ዓመት ʿāmat ("year") plural ዓመታት ʿāmatāt, ገዳም gadām ("wilderness, uninhabited area") plural ገዳማት gadāmāt, ሊቅ liq ("elder, chief") plural ሊቃን liqān, ጳጳስ p̣āp̣p̣ās ("(arch)bishop") plural ጳጳሳት p̣āp̣p̣āsāt.
  • Internal plural: ቤት bet ("house") plural አብያት ʾabyāt, ቅርንብ qərnəb ("eyelid") plural ቀራንብት qarānəbt.

Nouns also have two cases: the nominative, which is not marked, and the accusative, which is marked with final -a. As in other Semitic languages, there are at least two "states", absolute (unmarked) and construct (marked with -a as well).

Declension of ሊቅ liq ("elder, chief")
Singular Plural
Nominative ሊቅ liq ሊቀ liqa ሊቃን liqān ሊቃነ liqāna
Accusative ሊቀ liqa ሊቀ liqa ሊቃነ liqāna ሊቃነ liqāna

As in Classical/Standard Arabic, singular and plural nouns often take the same final inflectional affixes for case and state, as number morphology is achieved via attaching a suffix to the stem and/or an internal change in the stem.

There is some morphological interaction between consonant-final nouns and a pronoun suffix (see the table of suffix pronouns below). For example, when followed by -ya ("my"), in both nominative and accusative the resulting form is ሊቅየ liqə́ya (i.e. the accusative is not *ሊቀየ *liqáya), but with -ka ("your", masculine singular) there's a distinction between nominative ሊቅከ liqə́ka and accusative ሊቀከ liqáka, and similarly with -hu ("his") between nominative ሊቁ liqú (< *liq-ə-hu) and accusative ሊቆ liqó (< *liqa-hu).[30][31]

Internal plural[edit]

Internal plurals follow certain patterns. Triconsonantal nouns follow one of the following patterns.

Patterns of internal plural for triconsonantal nouns[32][33]
(C=Consonant, V=Vowel)
Pattern Singular Meaning Plural
ʾaCCāC ልብስ ləbs 'garment' አልባስ ʾalbās
ፈረስ faras 'horse' አፍራስ ʾafrās
ቤት bet 'house' አብያት ʾabyāt
ጾም ṣom 'fast' አጽዋም ʾaṣwām
ስም səm 'name' አስማት ʾasmāt
ʾaCCuC ሀገር hagar 'country' አህጉር ʾahgur
አድግ ʾadg 'ass' አእዱግ ʾaʾdug
ʾaCCəC(t) በትር batr 'rod' አብትር ʾabtər
ርእስ rə's 'head' አርእስት ʾarʾəst
ገብር gabr 'servant, slave' አግብርት ʾagbərt
ʾaCāCəC(t) በግዕ bagʽ 'sheep' አባግዕ ’abāgəʽ
ጋንን gānən 'devil' አጋንንት ’agānənt
CVCaC እዝን ’əzn 'ear' እዘን ’əzan
እግር ’əgr 'foot' እገር ’əgar
CVCaw እድ ’əd 'hand' እደው ’ədaw
አብ ’ab 'father' አበው ’abaw
እኍ/እኅው ’əḫʷ/’əḫəw 'brother' አኀው ’aḫaw

Quadriconsonantal and some triconsonantal nouns follow the following pattern. Triconsonantal nouns that take this pattern must have at least one "long" vowel (namely /i e o u/).[32]

Patterns of internal plural for quadriconsonantal nouns[32][33]
(C=Consonant, V=Vowel)
Pattern Meaning Singular Plural
CaCāCəC(t) 'virgin' ድንግል dəngəl ደናግል danāgəl
'prince' መስፍን masfən መሳፍንት masāfənt
'star' ኮከብ kokab ከዋክብት kawākəbt
'window' መስኮት maskot መሳኩት masākut < masākəwt
'chicken' ዶርሆ dorho ደራውህ darāwəh
'night' ሌሊት lelit ለያልይ layāləy
'earth' ብሔር bəḥer በሓውርት baḥāwərt
'river' ውሒዝ wəḥiz ወሓይዝት waḥāyəzt
'priest' ቀሲስ qasis ቀሳውስት qasāwəst

Pronominal morphology[edit]

In the independent pronouns, gender is not distinguished in the 1st person, and case is only distinguished in the 3rd person singular.

Personal independent pronouns[34][35]
Singular Plural
1st person አነ ʼána ንሕነ nə́ḥna
2nd person masculine አንተ ʼánta አንትሙ ʼantə́mu
feminine አንቲ ʼánti አንትን ʼantə́n
3rd person masculine nominative ውእቱ wəʼə́tu ውእቶሙ wəʼətómu,
እሙንቱ ʼəmuntú
accusative ውእተ wəʼə́ta
feminine nominative ይእቲ yəʼə́ti ውእቶን wəʼətón,
እማንቱ ʼəmāntú
accusative ይእተ yə’ə́ta

Suffix pronouns attach at the end of a noun, preposition or verb. The accusative/construct -a is lost when a plural noun with a consonant-final stem has a pronoun suffix attached (generally replaced by the added -i-, as in -i-hu, "his"), thereby losing the case/state distinction,[36] but the distinction may be retained in the case of consonant-final singular nouns. Furthermore, suffix pronouns may or may not attract stress to themselves. In the following table, pronouns without a stress mark (an acute) are not stressed, and vowel-initial suffixes have also been given the base /b/ in the script.

Suffix pronouns[37][38]
Default With consonant-final
singular nouns
With consonant-final
plural nouns
noun/prep. verb nominative accusative
Singular 1st person -የ -ya -ኒ -ni -ብየ -ə́ya -ብየ -ə́ya, -ቢየ -íya[a]
2nd person masculine -ከ -ka -ብከ -ə́ka -በከ -áka -ቢከ -íka
feminine -ኪ -ki -ብኪ -ə́ki -በኪ -áki -ቢኪ -íki, -ብኪ -ə́ki[b]
3rd person masculine -hú -ቡ -ቦ -ቢሁ -ihú
feminine -ሃ -hā́ -ባ -ā́ -ቢሃ -ihā́
Plural 1st person -ነ -na -ብነ -ə́na -በነ -ána -ቢነ -ína
2nd person masculine -ክሙ -kə́mu -ብክሙ -əkə́mu -በክሙ -akə́mu -ቢክሙ -ikə́mu
feminine -ክን -kə́n -ብክን -əkə́n -በክን -akə́n -ቢክን -ikə́n
3rd person masculine -ሆሙ -hómu -ቦሙ -ómu -ቢሆሙ -ihómu
feminine -ሆን -hón -ቦን -ón -ቢሆን -ihón
  1. ^ -ቢየ -íya is a variant mostly found in older manuscripts.[39]
  2. ^ These two forms are in free variation.[39]

Verb conjugation[edit]

Person Perfect
1st person singular qatal-ku ʾə-qattəl ʾə-qtəl
plural qatal-na nə-qattəl nə-qtəl
masculine singular qatal-ka tə-qattəl tə-qtəl
plural qatal-kəmmu tə-qattəl-u tə-qtəl-u
feminine singular qatal-ki tə-qattəl-i tə-qtəl-i
plural qatal-kən tə-qattəl-ā tə-qtəl-ā
masculine singular qatal-a yə-qattəl yə-qtəl
plural qatal-u yə-qattəl-u yə-qtəl-u
feminine singular qatal-at tə-qattəl tə-qtəl
plural qatal-ā yə-qattəl-ā yə-qtəl-ā


Noun phrases[edit]

Noun phrases have the following overall order:

(demonstratives) noun (adjective)-(relative clause)







በዛ ሀገር

ba-zā hagar

in-this:F city

in this city







ንጉሥ ክቡር

nəguś kəbur

king glorious

a/the glorious king

Adjectives and determiners agree with the noun in gender and number:










ዛቲ ንግሥት ክብርት

zāti nəgəśt kəbərt

this:FEM queen glorious:FEM

this glorious queen










እሉ ነገሥት ክቡራን

ʼəllu nagaśt kəburān

these:M.PL kings glorious:PL

these glorious kings

Relative clauses are introduced by a pronoun which agrees in gender and number with the preceding noun:










ብእሲ ዘቀተልዎ ለወልዱ

bəʾsi za=qatal-əww-o la=wald-u

man which:MASC=kill-3.M.PL-3.M.SG to=son=3.M.SG

the man whose son they killed

As in many Semitic languages, possession by a noun phrase is shown through the construct state. In Geʽez, this is formed by suffixing the construct suffix -a to the possessed noun, which is followed by the possessor, as in the following examples:[40]







ወልደ ንጉሥ

wald-a nəguś

son-construct king

the son of the king







ስመ መልአክ

səm-a malʼak

name-construct angel

the name of the angel

Another common way of indicating possession by a noun phrase combines the pronominal suffix on a noun with the possessor preceded by the preposition /la=/ 'to, for':[41]







ስሙ ለንጉሥ

səm-u la=nəguś

name-3SG to=king

'the king's name; the name of the king'

Lambdin[42] notes that in comparison to the construct state, this kind of possession is only possible when the possessor is definite and specific. Lambdin also notes that the construct state is the unmarked form of possession in Geʽez.

Prepositional phrases[edit]

Geʽez is a prepositional language, as in the following example:[43]







ውስተ ሀገር

wəsta hagar

to city

to the city

There are three special prepositions, /ba=/ 'in, with', /la=/ 'to, for', /ʼəm=/ 'from', which always appear as clitics, as in the following examples:







from the city







in the city







እምዲበ ደብር

’əm=diba dabr

from=on mountain

down from the mountain







በዝ ቤት

ba=zə bet

in=this house

in this house

These proclitic prepositions in Geʽez are similar to the Hebrew inseparable prepositions.


The normal word order for declarative sentences is VSO. Objects of verbs show accusative case marked with the suffix /-a/:










ተከለ ብእሲ ዕፀ

takal-a bəʾsi ʿəḍ-a

plant-3.M.SG man tree-ACC

The man planted a tree

Questions with a wh-word ('who', 'what', etc.) show the question word at the beginning of the sentence:










አየ ሀገረ ሐነጹ

ʾayy-a hagar-a ḥanaṣ-u

which-ACC city-ACC build-3PL

Which city did they build?


The common way of negation is the prefix ʾi- which descends from ʾəy- (which is attested in Axum inscriptions), from earlier *ʾay, from Proto-Semitic *ʾal by palatalization.[44] It is prefixed to verbs as follows:






(we) cannot




ንሕነ ኢንክል ሐዊረ

nəḥna ʾi-nəkl ḥawira

we {(we) cannot} go

we cannot go

Writing system[edit]

Genesis 29.11–16 in Geʽez

Geʽez is written with Ethiopic or the Geʽez abugida, a script that was originally developed specifically for this language. In languages that use it, such as Amharic and Tigrinya, the script is called Fidäl, which means script or alphabet.

Geʽez is read from left to right.

The Geʽez script has been adapted to write other languages, usually ones that are also Semitic. The most widespread use is for Amharic in Ethiopia and Tigrinya in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is also used for Sebatbeit, Meʼen, Agew, and most other languages of Ethiopia. In Eritrea it is used for Tigre, and it is often used for Bilen, a Cushitic language. Some other languages in the Horn of Africa, such as Oromo, used to be written using Geʽez but have switched to Latin-based alphabets. It also uses four series of consonant signs for labialized velar consonants, which are variants of the non-labialized velar consonants:

Basic sign q(a) ḫ(a) k(a) g(a)
Labialized variant qʷ(a) ḫʷ(a) kʷ(a) gʷ(a)

History and literature[edit]

Example of Geʽez taken from a 15th-century Ethiopian Coptic prayer book

In addition to the Bible including the Deuterocanonical books there are many medieval and early modern original texts. Most important works are also the literature of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which include Christian liturgy (service books, prayers, hymns), hagiographies, and Patristic literature. For example, around 200 texts were written about indigenous Ethiopian saints from the fourteenth through the nineteenth century. Traditional education was the responsibility of priests and monks. "The Church thus constituted the custodian of the nation's culture", says Richard Pankhurst, who describes the traditional education as follows:

Traditional education was largely biblical. It began with the learning of the alphabet, or more properly, syllabary... The student's second grade comprised the memorization of the first chapter of the first Epistle General of St. John in Geez. The study of writing would probably also begin at this time, and particularly in more modern times some arithmetic might be added. In the third stage the Acts of the Apostles were studied, while certain prayers were also learnt, and writing and arithmetic continued. ... The fourth stage began with the study of the Psalms of David and was considered an important landmark in a child's education, being celebrated by the parents with a feast to which the teacher, father confessor, relatives and neighbours were invited. A boy who had reached this stage would moreover usually be able to write, and might act as a letter writer.[45]

However, works of history and chronography, ecclesiastical and civil law, philology, medicine, and letters were also written in Geʽez.[46]

Significant collections of Ethiopian manuscripts are found outside of Ethiopia in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The collection in the British Library comprises some 800 manuscripts dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries, notably including magical and divinatory scrolls, and illuminated manuscripts of the 16th to 17th centuries. It was initiated by a donation of 74 codices by the Church of England Missionary Society in the 1830s and 1840s, and substantially expanded by 349 codices, looted by the British from the Emperor Tewodros II's capital at Magdala in the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has at least two illuminated manuscripts in Geʽez.


The Ezana Stone, engraved from AD 330 to 356, is written in ancient Ge'ez, Sabaean and Greek.

The Geʽez language is classified as a South Semitic language, though an alternative hypothesis posits that the Semitic languages of Eritrea and Ethiopia may best be considered an independent branch of Semitic,[47] with Geʽez and the closely related Tigrinya and Tigre languages forming a northern branch while Amharic, Argobba, Harari and the Gurage languages form the southern branch.[48]

Inscriptions dating to the mid-1st millennium BCE, written in the Sabaean language in the epigraphic South Arabian script, have been found in the kingdom of Dʿmt, serving at least as a witness to a presence of speakers of Semitic languages in the region. There is some evidence of Semitic languages being spoken in Eritrea since approximately 2000 BC.[49] Unlike previously assumed, the Geʽez language is now not regarded as an offshoot of Sabaean or any other forms of Old South Arabian.[50][48]

Early inscriptions in Geʽez from the Kingdom of Aksum (appearing varyingly in the epigraphic South Arabian script, and unvocalized or vocalized Ethiopic/Geʽez script[51]) have been dated to as early as the 4th century CE. The surviving Geʽez literature properly begins in the same century with the Christianization of the Aksum, during the reign of Ezana of Aksum.[46][51] The oldest known example of the Geʽez script, unvocalized and containing religiously pagan references, is found on the Hawulti obelisk in Matara, Eritrea.[52] There exist about a dozen long inscriptions dating to the 4th and 5th centuries, and over 200 short ones.[51]

5th to 7th centuries[edit]

The oldest surviving Geʽez manuscript is thought to be the second of the Garima Gospels, dating to the 5th or 6th century.[53][54] Almost all transmitted texts from this early "Aksumite" period are religious (Christian) in nature, and translated from Greek. Indeed, the range and scope of the translation enterprise undertaken in the first century of the new Axumite church has few parallels in the early centuries of Christian history. The outcome was an Ethiopic Bible containing 81 Books: 46 of the Old Testament and 35 of the New. A number of these Books are called "deuterocanonical" (or "apocryphal" according to certain Western theologians), such as the Ascension of Isaiah, Jubilees, Enoch, the Paralipomena of Baruch, Noah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Maccabees, and Tobit. The Book of Enoch in particular is notable since its complete text has survived in no other language; and, for the other works listed, the Ethiopic version is highly regarded as a witness to the original text.

Also to this early period dates Qerlos, a collection of Christological writings beginning with the treatise of Saint Cyril (known as Hamanot Reteʼet or De Recta Fide). These works are the theological foundation of the Ethiopic Church. In the later 5th century, the Aksumite Collection—an extensive selection of liturgical, theological, synodical and historical materials—was translated into Geʽez from Greek, providing a fundamental set of instructions and laws for the developing Axumite Church. Included in this collection is a translation of the Apostolic Tradition (attributed to Hippolytus of Rome, and lost in the original Greek) for which the Ethiopic version provides much the best surviving witness. Another important religious document is Serʼata Paknemis, a translation of the monastic Rules of Pachomius. Non-religious works translated in this period include Physiologus, a work of natural history also very popular in Europe.[55]

13th to 14th centuries[edit]

After the decline of the Aksumites, a lengthy gap follows; Some writers consider the period beginning from the 14th century an actual "Golden Age" of Geʽez literature—although by this time Geʽez was no longer a living language; in particular in the major enterprise of translating an extensive library of Coptic Arabic religious works into Ge'ez.

While there is ample evidence that it had been replaced by Amharic in the south and by Tigrinya and Tigre in the north, Geʽez remained in use as the official written language until the 19th century, its status comparable to that of Medieval Latin in Europe.

Important hagiographies from this period include:

Also at this time the Apostolic Constitutions was retranslated into Geʽez from Arabic. Another translation from this period is Zena ʼAyhud, a translation (probably from an Arabic translation) of Joseph ben Gurion's "History of the Jews" ("Sefer Josippon") written in Hebrew in the 10th century, which covers the period from the Captivity to the capture of Jerusalem by Titus. Apart from theological works, the earliest contemporary Royal Chronicles of Ethiopia are date to the reign of Amda Seyon I (1314–44). With the appearance of the "Victory Songs" of Amda Seyon, this period also marks the beginning of Amharic literature. The 14th century Kebra Nagast or "Glory of the Kings" by the Neburaʼed Yeshaq of Aksum is among the most significant works of Ethiopian literature, combining history, allegory and symbolism in a retelling of the story of the Queen of Sheba (i.e., Saba), King Solomon, and their son Menelik I of Ethiopia. Another work that began to take shape in this period is the Mashafa Aksum or "Book of Axum".[56]

15th to 16th centuries[edit]

The early 15th century Fekkare Iyasus "The Explication of Jesus" contains a prophecy of a king called Tewodros, which rose to importance in 19th century Ethiopia as Tewodros II chose this throne name.

Literature flourished especially during the reign of Emperor Zara Yaqob. Written by the Emperor himself were Matsʼhafe Berhan ("The Book of Light") and Matshafe Milad ("The Book of Nativity"). Numerous homilies were written in this period, notably Retuʼa Haimanot ("True Orthodoxy") ascribed to John Chrysostom. Also of monumental importance was the appearance of the Geʽez translation of the Fetha Negest ("Laws of the Kings"), thought to have been around 1450, and ascribed to one Petros Abda Sayd — that was later to function as the supreme Law for Ethiopia, until it was replaced by a modern Constitution in 1931.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Islamic invasions put an end to the flourishing of Ethiopian literature. A letter of Abba ʼEnbaqom (or "Habakkuk") to Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, entitled Anqasa Amin ("Gate of the Faith"), giving his reasons for abandoning Islam, although probably first written in Arabic and later rewritten in an expanded Geʽez version around 1532, is considered one of the classics of later Geʽez literature.[57] During this period, Ethiopian writers begin to address differences between the Ethiopian and the Roman Catholic Church in such works as the Confession of Emperor Gelawdewos, Sawana Nafs ("Refuge of the Soul"), Fekkare Malakot ("Exposition of the Godhead") and Haymanote Abaw ("Faith of the Fathers"). Around the year 1600, a number of works were translated from Arabic into Geʽez for the first time, including the Chronicle of John of Nikiu and the Universal History of George Elmacin.

Current usage in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Israel[edit]

Geʽez is the liturgical language of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo, Ethiopian Catholic and Eritrean Catholic Christians and the Beta Israel (Falasha Jews), and is used in prayer and in scheduled public celebrations.

The liturgical rite used by the Christian churches is referred to as the Ethiopic Rite[58][59][60] or the Geʽez Rite.[61][62][63][64]


The first sentence of the Book of Enoch:

















































ቃለ ፡ በረከት ፡ ዘሄኖክ ፡ ዘከመ ፡ ባረከ ፡ ኅሩያነ ፡ ወጻድቃነ ፡ እለ ፡ ሀለዉ ፡ ይኩኑ ፡ በዕለተ ፡ ምንዳቤ ፡ ለአሰስሎ ፡ ኵሉ ፡ እኩያን ፡ ወረሲዓን ።

Qāla {} barakat {} za-Henok {} zakama {} bāraka {} ḫəruyāna {} waṣādəqāna {} ʾəlla {} hallawu {} yəkunu {} baʿəlata {} məndābe {} laʾasassəlo {} kʷəllu {} ʾəkuyān {} warasiʿān {}

"Word of blessing of Henok, wherewith he blessed the chosen and righteous who would be alive in the day of tribulation for the removal of all wrongdoers and backsliders."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gragg 1997b, p. 242: "Ge‘ez disappeared as a spoken language probably some time before the tenth century CE."
  2. ^ De Lacy O'Leary, 2000 Comparative grammar of the Semitic languages. Routledge. p. 23.
  3. ^ a b Chain 1909: "No longer in popular use, Geʽez has always remained the language of the Church".
  4. ^ "They read the Bible in Geez" (Leaders and Religion of the Beth Israel); "after each passage, recited in Geez, the translation is read in Kailina" (Festivals). [PER], publication date 1901–1906.
  5. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ "Geez". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ "Geez". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary.
  8. ^ "Geez". Dictionary.com Unabridged (Online). n.d.
  9. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 400: Ge‘z
  10. ^ Leslau 1989, p. 209: gəʽəz
  11. ^ Leslau 1987, p. 175: gəʿz
  12. ^ Cohen 1921, p. 217: il vaut mieux préciser en éthiopien classique ou employer le nom indigène ; celui-ci est ግእዝ፡, c’est-à-dire en prononciation restituée gə‘əz ou gə‘z, et gəəz dans la prononciation abyssine actuelle (it is worth it to be precise using Classical Ethiopic or the indigenous name, which is ግእዝ፡, that is (in reconstructed pronunciation) gə‘əz or gə‘z, and gəəz [i.e. IPA [ˈgɨʔɨz] with a glottal stop] in today's Abyssinian pronunciation)
  13. ^ Thompson, E. D. 1976. Languages of Northern Eritrea. In Bender, M. Lionel (ed.), The Non-Semitic Languages of Ethiopia, 597–603. East Lansing, Michigan: African Studies Center, Michigan State University.
  14. ^ Connell, Dan; Killion, Tom (2010). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2nd, illustrated ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 508. ISBN 978-0-8108-7505-0.
  15. ^ Haarmann, Harald (2002). Lexikon der untergegangenen Sprachen [Lexicon of extinct languages] (in German) (2nd ed.). C.H. Beck. p. 76. ISBN 978-3-406-47596-2.
  16. ^ Amsalu Aklilu, Kuraz Publishing Agency, ጥሩ የአማርኛ ድርሰት እንዴት ያለ ነው! p. 42
  17. ^ Gragg 1997a, p. 177: "/ä/ is low central front, higher and more forward than /a/, secondarily perhaps also shorter; approximates IPA [æ]."
  18. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 3: "a [æ, ä]"
  19. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 3: "ā [a, ɑ]"
  20. ^ Gragg 1997a, pp. 177–178.
  21. ^ a b Gragg 1997b, p. 246.
  22. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 2.
  23. ^ Gragg 1997b, p. 244.
  24. ^ Gragg 1997b, p. 245.
  25. ^ Weninger, Stefan (2011). "Sounds of Gǝʽǝz – How to Study the Phonetics and Phonology of an Ancient Language". Aethiopica. 13: 75–88. doi:10.15460/aethiopica.13.1.39.
  26. ^ Mittwoch 1926, as used by Tropper 2021, § 3.5, and largely identical to Lambdin 1978, pp. 5, 29, 36, 40, 57, 97
  27. ^ Dillmann 1899, as cited by Tropper 2021, § 3.5.2 in footnotes 45–46
  28. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 26.
  29. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 21.
  30. ^ Tropper 2021, §
  31. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 40.
  32. ^ a b c Gragg 1997b, p. 248.
  33. ^ a b Gragg 2008, p. 440.
  34. ^ Tropper 2021, § 4.1.1.
  35. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 29.
  36. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 41: "Plural noun. All plural nouns have a suffix -i- added to the stem before the pronominal suffixes. [...] There are no distinct accusative forms."
  37. ^ Tropper 2021, § 4.1.2.
  38. ^ Lambdin 1978, pp. 40–41.
  39. ^ a b Tropper 2021, §
  40. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 23.
  41. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 44.
  42. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 45.
  43. ^ Lambdin 1978, p. 16.
  44. ^ Gragg 1997b, p. 257.
  45. ^ Pankhurst 1968, pp. 666f; cf. the EOTC's own account at its official website. "Church Teachings". Retrieved from the Internet Archive on March 12, 2014.
  46. ^ a b "Ethiopic Language in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online.
  47. ^ M., E. (1935). "Note on the Languages of Abyssinia". Bulletin of International News. 12 (12): 3–5. ISSN 2044-3986. JSTOR 25639482.
  48. ^ a b Gragg 2008, p. 428.
  49. ^ Stuart 1991, p. 57.
  50. ^ Weninger, Stefan, "Geʽez" in Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha, p.732.
  51. ^ a b c Gragg 2008, p. 430.
  52. ^ Edward Ullendorff, "The Obelisk of Matara", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1/2 (April, 1951), pp. 26–32
  53. ^ A conservator at work on the Garima Gospels (2010-07-14). ""Discovery of earliest illustrated manuscript," Martin Bailey, June 2010". Theartnewspaper.com. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  54. ^ "The Arts Newspaper June 2010 – Abuna Garima Gospels". Ethiopianheritagefund.org. Archived from the original on 2012-05-01. Retrieved 2012-07-11.
  55. ^ Budge 1928, pp. 566f..
  56. ^ Budge 1928, p. 574.
  57. ^ Pankhurst 2003.
  58. ^ Bryan D. Spinks, The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer (Cambridge University Press 2002 ISBN 978-0-521-52662-3), p. 119
  59. ^ Anscar J. Chupungco, Handbook for Liturgical Studies (Liturgical Press 1997 ISBN 978-0-8146-6161-1), p. 13
  60. ^ Archdale King, The Rites of Eastern Christendom, vol. 1 (Gorgias Press LLC 2007 ISBN 978-1-59333-391-1), p. 533
  61. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (C. Hurst & Co. 2000 ISBN 978-1-85065-393-6), p. 127
  62. ^ Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley (editors), The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 2 (Eerdmans 1999 ISBN 978-90-04-11695-5), p. 158
  63. ^ David H. Shinn, Thomas P. Ofcansky (editors), Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia (Scarecrow Press 2013), p. 93
  64. ^ Walter Raunig, Steffen Wenig (editors), Afrikas Horn (Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005, ISBN 978-3-447-05175-0), p. 171


External history[edit]

Phonology and grammar[edit]

  • Chaîne, Marius, Grammaire éthiopienne. Beyrouth (Beirut): Imprimerie catholique 1907, 1938 (Nouvelle édition). (electronic version at the Internet Archive)
  • Cohen, Marcel (1921). "la pronunciation traditionelle du Guèze (éthiopien classique)". Journal Asiatique. 11 (18). (electronic version on the Gallica digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, PDF)
  • Dillmann, August (1899). Grammatik der äthiopischen Sprache (2nd ed.). Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz.
  • Dillmann, August; Bezold, Carl, Ethiopic Grammar, 2nd edition translated from German by James Crichton, London 1907. ISBN 978-1-59244-145-7 (2003 reprint). (Published in German: ¹1857, ²1899). (Online version at the Internet Archive)
  • Gragg, Gene (1997a). "Ge'ez Phonology". In Kaye, Alan (ed.). Phonologies of Asia and Africa. Vol. 1. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 169–186. ISBN 1-57506-017-5.
  • Gragg, Gene (1997b). "Ge'ez (Ethiopic)". In Hetzron, Robert (ed.). The Semitic Languages. London & New York: Routledge. pp. 242–260. ISBN 0-415-05767-1.
  • Gragg, Gene (2008). "Ge'ez". In Woodard, Roger (ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-56256-0.
  • Kidanä Wäld Kəfle, Maṣḥafa sawāsəw wagəss wamazgaba ḳālāt ḥaddis ("A new grammar and dictionary"), Dire Dawa: Artistik Matämiya Bet 1955/6 (E.C. 1948).
  • Lambdin, Thomas (1978). Introduction to Classical Ethiopic. Harvard Semitic Studies. Vol. 24. Missoula: Scholars Press. ISBN 978-0-89130-263-6.
  • Mercer, Samuel Alfred Browne, "Ethiopic grammar: with chrestomathy and glossary" 1920 (Online version at the Internet Archive)
  • Mittwoch, Eugen (1926). Die traditionelle Aussprache des äthiopischen. Abessinische Studien. Vol. 1. Berlin & Leipzig: Walter de Gruyter & Co.
  • Praetorius, Franz, Äthiopische Grammatik, Karlsruhe: Reuther 1886.
  • Prochazka, Stephan, Altäthiopische Studiengrammatik, Orbis Biblicus Et Orientalis – Subsidia Linguistica (OBO SL) 2, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Verlag 2005. ISBN 978-3-525-26409-6.
  • Tropper, Josef, Altäthiopisch: Grammatik der Geʽez mit Übungstexten und Glossar, Elementa Linguarum Orientis (ELO) 2, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag 2002. ISBN 978-3-934628-29-8
  • Tropper, Josef (2021). Classical Ethiopic: A Grammar of Gǝˁǝz. Translated by Hasselbach-Andee, Rebecca. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-1-57506-841-1.
  • Weninger, Stefan, Geʽez grammar, Munich: LINCOM Europa, ISBN 978-3-929075-04-5 (1st edition, 1993), ISBN 978-3-89586-604-3 (2nd revised edition, 1999).
  • Weninger, Stefan, Das Verbalsystem des Altäthiopischen: Eine Untersuchung seiner Verwendung und Funktion unter Berücksichtigung des Interferenzproblems, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2001. ISBN 978-3-447-04484-4.
  • Zerezghi Haile, Learn Basic Geez Grammar (2015) for Tigrinya readers available at: https://uwontario.academia.edu/WedGdmhra



External links[edit]