Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, it has its own alphabet and its own unique rules of pronunciation. Several of the consonants are pronounced at the back of the throat and to an outsider, it sounds like a “clicking noise.” Almost impossible to imitate for an English speaker. Think of trying to say “Chanukah” and then move the “ch” sound even further back in your throat as if you are trying to swallow it.
The Amharic alphabet is beautiful to look at, as exotic as Arabic or Chinese, and like the Hebrew alphabet to which it is related, vowels are not included. There are little marks put over the letters to indicate what kind of vowel sound is suggested for the word, but the rules are arbitrary. In fact, there are no standardized rules of translation from English to Amharic.
Hopfully this will help explain some of the differences you may see in the spelling of people’s names from time to time. One of the most common girl’s names at the Academy is Kalekidan (pronounced: “Kah-lee-kee-dan,” but spelled “KLKDN.”) So you may see it spelled Kalkidan or Kalikidan or shortened to Kikidan. It’s the mother’s and student’s preference as to the spelling.
Just to mix things up a little more, certain consonants can be pronounced the same. For example, “t” and “f” sound a lot alike, as do “m” and “n.” So you may see a last name spelled “Aseta” as “Asefa.” Again, spelling is left to the discretion of the individual person.
We mention the complexities of the Amharic language because the students at Fresh and Green Academy are proficient not only in reading, writing and spelling Amharic, they are learning English as well. We only have 26 letters in our alphabet, Amharic has 64. In addition, verbs have gender in Amharic, so saying something as simple as “How are you?” depends on whether you are addressing a man or a woman. Or a group of men or a group of women. Amharic even has a “formal” verb form for use when you are showing exceptional respect or politeness to someone.
Here’s a great website for more information: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/amharic.htm.
Hopefully this will give you a peek as to just how smart the bilingual students are at Fresh and Green Academy.