Lähetys on päättynyt 2022-09-02 12:00:00

Moges Yigezu

Managing and Reconciling Linguistic Diversity: The history of language policy formulation in Ethiopia, current trends, challenges and prospects'

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With over 110 million people and more than eighty-four languages, Ethiopia is certainly one of the multilingual nations in Africa today. It has a long and rich history, and the diversity and distribution of its peoples and languages is also of a similar magnitude. Among the four language phyla in our continent, two of them, the Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan, are found in Ethiopia. Likewise, among the six language families emerging from the Afro-Asiatic language phylum, three of them, namely, the Cushitic, Omotic, and Semitic language families, are also spoken in Ethiopia.

Over the course of several centuries, the practice of formulating and implementing language policies in Ethiopia, overt or covert, has witnessed diverse types of language policy implementation models ranging from assimilationist policies to a more radical type of multilingual pluralist policy. This was due to the fact that, historically the governments of Ethiopia adopted language policies that were entrenched in their respective ideologies and political orientations which were also molded by the social, political and cultural past of the country (cf. Moges 2010, 23-43).

The most radical language policy was introduced in 1991 in a sweeping shift from an authoritative monolingual policy to a multilingual pluralist policy. The policy, which has been in use for nearly three decades, does not have an independently promulgated language policy provisions. Language issues are cited mainly as parts of the Constitution (1995) and the Education and Training policy (1994). The policy implementation faced serious challenges which are more visibly observed in the arena of educational language policy in particular. Some of these challenges include: (a) the policy implementation preceded policy formulation; (b) there is a gap between the federal policy and planning and the regional policy adoption and implementation models; (c) the policy making has followed a top-down approach; and (d) the policy lacks a proper and consolidated provision towards the LWC, i.e. Amharic, or the lingua franca of the nation, and favors an international language over the official working language of the country. In recognition of these and other challenges surfaced during the implementation of the 1991 policy, a comprehensive language policy was drafted in 2015 and, passing through a prolonged review process, approved in February 2021 by the Council of Ministers of the Federal government.

In an attempt to understand the capacities of the new language policy in managing and reconciling the linguistic diversity of the country and in order to examine the emerging language issues within the wider political reform undergoing over the past four years, the current paper focuses on two major focal points. First, it gives an overview of the history of language policy formulation and implementation, and discusses the deficiencies observed in the implementation of the language policy that has been in use for nearly three decades. Second, it outlines the main features of the newly approved language policy, looks into its prospects and further examines its wider implications to the regional integration being advocated by leaders of the Horn of Africa region.