Culture: Languages and Lifestyles
By Fred Onovwerosuoke.1999. All rights reserved

Traditional Dance

There is no national official language. The working languages are English, Tigrigna and Arabic.

According to Greenberg’s classification of African languages, there are three major language groups within the political boundary of the State of Eritrea. These language groups are the Cushitic, Nilo-Saharan and the Semitic language groups. The Cushitic and the Semitic gruops in turn are together grouped under the bigger Afro-Asiatic group. There are two languages that belong to the Nilo-Saharan group: Kunama (Baza) and Nara; four languages that belong to the Cushitic group are: Afar, Beja(Hedarb), Bilen, and Saho; and there are four languages that belong to the Semitic group: Arabic, Tigre, Tigrigna, and Ge’ez. (Today, Ge’ez is not a spoken language; however, it still is the dominant language in the liturgy of the Orthodox and Catholic (Ge’ez Rite) churches.)

One point of note is that this simplified classifi-cation of Eritrean languages can be somewhat misleading if one tries to equate it with ethnic groupings. There are several cases where a language is spoken, as a native tongue, by a group of people who claim to have no ethnic relation with the ethnic group that bears the name of the language. For example, we can easily classify that Saho (the language) belongs to the Cushitic sub-family of the Afro-Asiatic group of African languages, but this might not be true of the ethnic origin of the people who speak Saho. The same can be said about Tigriniya, Tigre, or Bilen. This observation is not unique to Eritrean languages; it is true with many other languages, so much so in our modern world. The growth of languages and the change that comes to them is not a calculated one. Languages grow, languages die, languages borrow words, languages lend words. As a result of this a Cushitic language might have left its influence on a Semitic language and vise versa. As people of the Horn-of- Africa interacted peacefully, or one conquered the other, there were cases where conquerors adopted the language of their subjects; however, the norm was that subjects were usually forced to adopt the language of their conquerors. Since the forebears of today’s Eritreans, like many of the neighboring people, came emigrated from different areas, it is common to hear several Eritrean languages being spoken across the Eritrean boarders as well. Even those that are exclusively spoken in Eritrea have languages across the border that are closely related to them.

Today, Eritrea’s National Assembly has adopted Arabic and Tigrigna as the government’s working languages - although this has not discouraged or precluded the use of other common languages. English is widely used for commerce, especially in the urban areas.

Eritrean Cuisine

The two stables are kitcha, which is a very thin, 
baked unleavened bread or pancake made from wheat; 
and injera, a spongy pancake made from wheat or sorghum. 
The grains are ground up, made into a watery dough and 
then left to ferment for a couple of days. It is then 
fried or baked. Injera is eaten with a variety of stews - 
prepared with fish, lamb,beef, chicken,or  vegetables.
When served several injera are spread on a tray and the 
stew(s) and other condiments are poured into the middle. 
Usually eaten with hands, everyone eats from the same 
tray. A dinner-table or (mat) of injera dish can evoke 
great communal spirit!

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