Tigrinya Language Profile

Language Identification: ISO 639-3 tir

Other names: Tigrigna, Tigray or Tigrai

Local name: ትግርኛ tigriññā

Pronunciation: [tɨɡrɨɲa]

Region: Eastern Africa (Horn of Africa): Eritrea, Ethiopia (Tigray Region)

Ethnic Population: Tigrinyas

Tigrinya users: 9 millions of native speakers

Language family:

Afro-Asiatic -> Semitic -> South Semitic – > Ethiopic -> North Ethiopic -> Ge’ez -> Tigrinya

Early forms: Ge’ez (Classical Ethiopic)

Language Status:

Official language in Eritrea and recognised minority language in Ethiopia (Tigray Region).


Tigrinya dialects differ phonetically, lexically, and grammatically. No dialect appears to be accepted as a standard.


The basic word order in Tigrigna is Subject-Object-Verb. Modifiers precede the nouns they modify.

Writing system:

Tigrinya is written in the Ge’ez script, originally developed for Ge’ez, also called classical Ethiopic. The Ge’ez script is an abugida: each symbol represents a consonant + vowel syllable, and the symbols are organized in groups of similar symbols on the basis of both the consonant and the vowel.



Tigrinya is a Semitic language of the Tigray people of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea.

Written records include religious texts prepared by mission societies and an increasing number of textbooks and literary works. The language is closely related to Geʿez, the ancient language of Ethiopia, and to the Tigré language. There were some 9.0 million speakers in the 21st century.


Tigrinya is an old language with a history that can be traced back to the 13th Century, during the Zagwe dynasty. It is different from most other languages used in the region because it has phrasal verbs.

The earliest written example of Tigrinya is a text of local laws found in the district of Logosarda, Debub Region in Southern Eritrea, which dates from the 13th century.

In Eritrea, during British administration, the Ministry of Information put out a weekly newspaper in Tigrinya that cost 5 cents and sold 5,000 copies weekly. At the time, it was reported to be the first of its kind.


Tigrinya (along with Arabic) was one of Eritrea’s official languages during its short-lived federation with Ethiopia; in 1958 it was replaced by the Southern Ethiopic language Amharic prior to its annexation. Upon Eritrea’s independence in 1991, Tigrinya retained the status of working language in the country, the only state in the world to date to recognize Tigrinya on a national level.

Geographical distribution

Tigrinya is the most widely spoken language in Eritrea and the fourth most spoken language in Ethiopia after Amharic, Somali and Oromo. It is also spoken by large immigrant communities around the world, in countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada the United States and Australia.

The official status of Tigrinya


Tigrinya is spoken by 2.5 million people in Eritrea where it is the de facto national language. It is the most spoken language in the country, and is used in mass media, education, and government. Upon Eritrea’s independence in 1991, Tigrinya retained the status of working language in the country, the only state in the world to date to recognize Tigrinya on a national level.


According to the 2007 census, Tigrinya is spoken by 4.3 million people in Ethiopia, 2.8 million of whom are monolingual speakers of the language. It is the third most commonly spoken language in Ethiopia where it serves as a lingua franca among the country’s different ethnic groups. It is used in the mass media, education, and in government and non-governmental agencies. Population total of all countries is estimated at 6.9 million.


There are 10,000 speakers of Tigrinya in Israel.


Tigrinya dialects differ phonetically, lexically, and grammatically.

No dialect appears to be accepted as a standard.

There is no significant dialectal variation in Tigrinya, but scholars usually divide the language into two mutually intelligible dialects: Asmara spoken in Eritrea, Tigray spoken in Ethiopia.

Spoken and literary varieties

Tigrinya (Tigrinya, Tigray, Tigriññā) is a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is closely related to Amharic, Tigré and Ge’ez, an extinct language that is still used in religious practice. It is distantly related to Arabic and Hebrew. You would expect Tigrinya to mean language of the Tigre people. But there is another group in Eritrea called the Tigre. The suffix – nya means worker or one who works. The language of the Tigre people is never referred to as Tigrinya, just Tigre so it can be distinguished from the other tribes, Tigray and Tigrinya.

Written language

Tigrinya is written with a version of the Ge’ez script and first appeared in writing during the 13th century in a text on the local laws for the district of Logosarda in southern Eritrea. The ge’ez writing system is an abugida: each symbol represents a consonant-vowel group.

The Tigrinya alphabet


ä u i a e (ǝ) o


Tigrinya numbers

Numeral Cardinal
0 ባዶ (bado), ዜሮ (zeero)
1 ሓደ (hade)
2 ክልተ (kelete)
3 ሰለስተ (seleste)
4 ኣርባዕተ (arbaete)
5 ሓሙሽት (hamushte)
6 ሽድሽተ (shudushte)
7 ሸውዓተ (shewa’ate)
8 ሸሞንተ (shemonte)
9 ትሽዓተ (tishe’ate)
10 ዓሰርተ (‘äserte)
11 ፲፩ ዓሰርተ ሓደ (‘äserte hade)
12 ፲፪ ዓሰርተ ክልተ (‘äserte kelete)
13 ፲፫ ዓሰርተ ሰለስተ (‘äserte seleste)
14 ፲፬ ዓሰርተ ኣርባዕተ (‘äserte arbaete)
15 ፲፭ ዓሰርተ ሓሙሽት (‘äserte hamushte)
16 ፲፮ ዓሰርተ ሽድሽተ (‘äserte shudushte)
17 ፲፯ ዓሰርተ ሸውዓተ (‘äserte shewa’ate)
18 ፲፰ ዓሰርተ ስምንት (‘äserte shemonte)
19 ፲፱ ዓሰርተ ዘጠኝ (‘äserte tishe’ate)
20 ዕስራ (‘äsra)



Tigrinya is a highly inflected language and has a complex typology. It exhibits the root and pattern morphological system. The Tigrinya root is a sequence of consonants and it represents the basic form for word formation. Tigrinya makes use of prefixing, suffixing and internal changes to form inflectional and derivational word forms. Tigrinya Nouns are inflected for gender, number, case and definiteness. Like other Semitic languages Tigrinya has rich verb morphology. Tigrinya verbs show different morphosyntactic features based on the arrangement of consonant -vowel patterns.


Tigrinya uses suffixes and prefixes attached to roots for representing grammatical information. As in other Semitic languages, morphology is based on tri-consonant roots, from which nouns, adjectives, and verbs are formed by vowel insertion along with prefixation and suffixation.


Tigrinya adjectives may have separate masculine singular, feminine singular, and plural forms, and adjectives usually agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify. The plural forms follow the same patterns as noun plurals; that is, they may be formed by suffixes or internal changes or a combination of the two. Some common patterns relating masculine, feminine and plural forms of adjectives are the following. Note that ä in the patterns becomes a after pharyngeal or glottal consonants (as elsewhere in Tigrinya).

Nouns and pronouns

Like other Afro-Asiatic languages, Tigrinya has two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. Grammatical gender normally coincides with biological gender for people and animals. The gender of most inanimate nouns is not predictable from their form. Nouns are not marked for gender, but modifiers and articles are. 2nd and 3rd person personal pronouns are marked for gender.

Adjectives and determiners agree with the nouns they modify in gender.

There are two numbers: singular and plural. As in Arabic, Tigre, and Ge’ez noun plurals are formed both through the addition of suffixes to the singular form,

Tigrinya has definite but no indefinite articles.


Like other Semitic languages, Tigrigna has very elaborate verb morphology.

Verb roots usually consist of a set of three to five consonants. Different verb forms are derived by applying vowels and suffixes to the roots. A verb form normally has one or more suffixes and prefixes. Sometimes consonants are geminated (doubled).

Verbs are marked for person, number, and gender. There are two aspects: imperfective and perfective. Compound tenses are expressed by means of auxiliary verbs. There are three moods: indicative, imperative, and optative.

Verbs are marked for active and passive voice, .for positive and negative. They agree with their subject and sometimes with the direct or indirect object. There are several different classes of verbs, each modifying its stem in a number of different ways.


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