23 January 2008

In Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, the future is seemingly an afterthought. In regard to time, there exists one major tense division, between the past and the present. Future actions are described, then, merely through the provision of appropriate context. I go today. I go every Thursday. I go two years from now. The past is established and set apart in a collection of formalized grammatical structures. The future is, grammatically, indistinguishable from the present.

The language's own future appears similarly unformulated. Recent, "modern" concepts are expressed almost exclusively in the English language of the countries from which they have been adopted: "strategy," "policy," "project," "bureaucracy," "sector," "mainstreaming," and technologies like "photo copy," "refrigerator," and "computer." In fact, the ancient Ge'ez alphabet in which Amharic is written has recently had to adopt a new seven-form character to provide the "v" sound in English words like "television," "DVD," "university," and "HIV." The addition is a bold move for a country that maintains its own time apart from the rest of the world, having refused since 1582 to give up the Julian calendar in favor of the Gregorian revision.

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