- Language and Ethnic Boundaries:Perceptions of Identity Expressed through Attitudes towards the Use of Language Education in Southern Ethiopia
The field research that provides the material for this paper concerned the introduction of local languages into the primary education system in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) of Ethiopia, and the reactions of local people to this change in government language policy. Previously, Amharic was the only language used in primary schools throughout Ethiopia. Local languages have now been introduced as media of instruction (the language in which subjects are taught) in many areas of Ethiopia, in response to the present government's broadly conceived programs for political and cultural reform intended to "create equality" for Ethiopia's many ethnic or linguistic groups, at least in proportion to the sizes of their respective populations.
Article 39.2 of the new Ethiopian Constitution of 1995 asserts the linguistic rights of groups of people in the Ethiopian state as follows:
Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and develop its own language; to express, to develop and to promote its culture; and to preserve its history. [End Page 189]
In response to this stated right, eight local languages have been introduced for use in the primary schools of the SNNPRS. The SNNPRS is divided into nine zones and five special woredas, which have been defined according to the presence of particular languages or groups of languages. Two zones, Bench-Maji and South Omo, the areas of the greatest linguistic diversity within the Region, have opted to continue to use Amharic for all official purposes. In these zones no language presents itself as suitable for the purpose of education. All of the remaining zones have introduced the language that represents the largest proportion of the population for the purpose of primary education. Local languages are used throughout the Sidama, Gedeo, and Hadiya zones except in the zone capitals (Awassa, Dilla, and Hosanna), where some schools continue to use Amharic. In the North Omo Zone (decreased in size and renamed "Wolaitta Zone" in early 2001), which is inhabited by the groups of people whose languages form the Ometo cluster of Omotic languages, two languages have been introduced, Wolaitta, in the northeast of the zone, and Gamo, Gofa, Dawro (a composite language) in the remainder of the zone. Some schools in the former zone capital (Arba Minch) continue to use Amharic. In the Kembata, Alaba, Tembaro (KAT) Zone the Kembata language is used in the woredas inhabited by the ethnic group of the same name, while the woredas inhabited by the Alaba and Tembaro continue to use Amharic. In the Gurage Zone only the Silt'i Gurage have had their language introduced for teaching purposes, and, similarly, in the Kafficho-Shakicho Zone only the Käfa people use their language, while all other areas of these two zones continue to use Amharic.
The research project at the basis of this paper focused on the attitudes of local populations towards the introduction of the local languages into the primary education system, and not on technical aspects of the implementation process (See also Cohen 2000, 2002). In pursuance of this topic, several of the areas in which local languages are now being used for the purposes of primary education were visited. These were the areas inhabited by the Sidama, Gedeo, Kembata, Hadiya, Silt'i Gurage, Wolaitta, Gamo, and Gofa, all of whom inhabit highland areas bordering the Southern Rift Valley. For the sake of comparison, some areas where the local languages are, as yet, not employed in primary education were [End Page 190] also visited. These areas included Konso and Aari on the southern rim of the Ethiopian Highlands, Alaba in the central Rift Valley, and the Mesken and Sebat-bet Gurage areas in the north of the Region close to the national capital, Addis Ababa. Research was also conducted in the Region's major urban centers (Awassa, Arba Minch, Dilla, and Hosanna), where primary education in the local languages now exists alongside primary education in Amharic.
Visiting a large number of both urban and rural areas inhabited by different linguistic or...