Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ge'ez (Classical Ethiopic)

Ge'ez is the classical language of Ethiopia.  As a member of the Semitic language family its relatives include familiar languages like Hebrew and Arabic.  Ge'ez is really important for students of Greco-Roman Judaism and the history of Christianity.  The Christianization of Ethiopia (4th century CE) led to the translation of Jewish/Christian writings into Ge'ez, including important Jewish writings like 1 Enoch and Jubilees.  We have since lost most of the earlier Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic versions of these Jewish texts, so they only exist today in their entirety in Ge'ez translation. This makes it an important language for students of early Judaism.  Beyond these Jewish writings the Ethiopian manuscript tradition contains many Christian works translated from Greek and Arabic, and also includes indigenous Ethiopian Christian resources -- most of which have not been translated into English.  For those interested in studying non-western Christian history, learning the Ge'ez language will be very rewarding.

Ge'ez will be much easier to learn if you have already studied a Semitic language like Hebrew or Arabic.  Or if you just happen to be fluent in Amharic already.

If you'd like to find other Ancient Bookshelf posts that include or deal with Ge'ez in any way, click here.

Ge'ez is rarely taught for credit in North American universities.  The CARLA Less Commonly Taught Language Database lists only one university that offers it: Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.  It has been taught at other universities, however, including:
University of Chicago by Prof. Rachel Hasselbach-Andee 
University of Toronto by Prof. Robert Holmstedt 
University of Washington by Prof. Hamza Zafer 

There are opportunities to learn Ge'ez in Germany, for example:
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München by Prof. Loren Stuckenbruck
Universität Hamburg
Phillips-Universität Marburg

There of course several scholars who know and can teach Ge'ez, but may not have an official course listing at their institution.


Lambdin, Thomas.  Introduction to Classical Ethiopic. 
Lambdin's grammar offers a good introduction to Ge'ez.  The entire grammar is in transliteration, including the vocabulary lists and exercises (with the exception of one reading sample at the end).  This is helpful since the Ethiopic script does not reflect things like gemination (doubling of letters).  However, it can also make it difficult to start reading and translating texts, since printed editions are going to be in the Ethiopic script.

Raineri, Osvaldo. Introduzione Alla Lingua Ge'ez.
This is the Italian translation of Lambdin, which has the vocabulary and exercises in Ge'ez script rather than transliteration.

Dillman, August and James A. Chrichton.  Ethiopic Grammar. 
Dillman's classic and monumental grammar in English translation.  Dillman has more information than Lambdin, particularly in areas of syntax.  If you're serious about learning Ethiopic this is an important book to have, and can be a great companion and complement to Lambdin.  Lambdin will still be the most accessible starting point, however.

Gragg, Gene. "Ge'ez (Aksum)."  Pages 427-453 in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages.  
An overview of the Ge'ez language for those with a linguistic bent.

Leslau, Wolf.  A Concise Dictionary of Ge'ez. 
This is the shorter version of Leslau's Comparative Dictionary of Ge'ez.  The longer work is English-Ge'ez/Ge'ez to English and is in transliteration.  This shorter version is only Ge'ez-English and has its entries in the Ethiopic script.  It is more affordable and portable than the larger volume, and once you start reading texts you might find that it's easier to search for words in the Ethiopic script, rather than having to find them in transliteration.  The larger dictionary is on Google Books, and I've often been able to use the search feature to pull up English-Ge'ez entries when needed.

There are several classic grammars available as PDFs online.


Ge'ez Flashcards 
You can download and print our flashcards that can be used with Lambdin's grammar.

Ethiopic Jubilees Reading Guide: 11:1-10/The Rise of Civilization
Vocabulary list and notes.

Ethiopic Jubilees Reading Guide: The Aqedah, 17:15-18:16
Vocabulary list and notes.

Ethiopic Bible
You can access books from the Ethiopic Old and New Testaments on this wonderful website.

Ge'ez Videos
Links to two videos about Ge'ez from Endangered Language Association Toronto.

The Ethiopic Writing System: A Typographic Approach.
M.A. Dissertation by Jeremie Hornus.

Because Ethiopic has so many different characters in its syllabary, it can take a while to learn how to type in the script!  This Unicode chart will show you the codes you need.  If you have not used Unicode there are resources online to help you figure it out.  For Mac users you change the language of your keyboard to "Unicode Hex Input."  You can then hold down your 'option' key and type in the four digit/letter code from the chart above.  To use the Unicode hex codes with windows see this article.  Windows users have more options than us Mac people, and some of this is discussed here.

[Stay Tuned!  I have some more downloadable resources I'll be adding]

[Last update: February 12th 2017]


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  2. Count me in. Learning Ge'ez is my goal for the next couple of months. I am fluent in Amharic...we could start a podcast/website. And I will be glad to help in anyway, and of course learn with you.

  3. Hi James,

    my name's Anke, I studied Ge'ez both in traditional Ethiopian monastery schools and in the theological college in Addis Abeba. You asked for feedback in your flashcard PDF, so allow me to point out the two most glaring mistakes I noticed when cutting the cards: "dingil/denagel" is translated also with "monk" - that is just wrong, we would not use those words for monk, that would be a "menekose/menekosat (pl.)". Two, you translated "a Christian/adj. Christian" as "kristiyanawi" - we do not use that word in Ge'ez at all (and only rarely in Amharic, even); the word is simply "kristiyan".
    If you want me to, I can also e-mail you additional corrections, should I have any...

    But nevertheless, I salute your effort to compile these flashcards and design the PDF - that is a lot of work!

    Best wishes!

  4. A Concise Dictionary of Ge'ez. Are the definitions in English?

  5. Hi James! I recently spent a month in Ethiopia, and now I'm fascinated by Ge'ez and Amharic. I can almost read it now. I'm already fluent in Hebrew, and familiar with Arabic. Please send me an email. Maybe we can skype some time.

  6. James, here you have a great blog. I am originally from Ethiopia. I found this blog as I am preparing myself to study Geez, for the purpose of a graduate study. personally seeing all these people trying to study geez is a great encouragement. I am dusting off my Geez grammar book. I hope my amharic language and my early childhood familiarization with Geez will help me. Keep up in your great work.

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  8. I have a PhD student who is very eager to look at Jeremiah in Geez (she is fluent in Amharic and interested in Jeremiah), but we are running into the frustration that Jeremiah seems extremely hard to come by. Are there any (non-critical) published versions of the Geez Bible?

  9. Try