The history of Ethiopia has witnessed a constant struggle between centralizing forces and regional powers. Since 1991 the pendulum has swung clearly toward a policy of “ethnic federalism.” Nevertheless, to date only a few of the about eighty ethnic groups of Ethiopia have implemented the right to fully develop their own language and use it in education and administration, as enshrined in the new federal constitution. Actually, only Oromo (the second or possibly even the first language of the country in demographic terms) has been equipped to become a full-fledged medium in the fields of education, administration, and publication. For many other languages, reshaping has been limited to the selection of an orthography, accompanied by the introduction of the local language in the first years of the school curriculum and the production of primers or dictionaries. After a comparison with the previous language policies of the country and of neighboring Eritrea, the article discusses the problems facing the standardization and Ausbauization of Ethiopian languages: orthographic choices, the selection of the official variety to be implemented, the elaboration of modern technical vocabulary, and the production of high-quality written material.
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