The implications of rural-urban migration to the development of the languages of national minorities: the case of the language of the Wolaita ethnic group

  • Getahun Dana
Keywords: national minority, national majority, ‘choice-enabling conditions’, ‘endangered language’


The current government of Ethiopia believes that the unity of the various ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’ of the country fundamentally depends on the protection of both the individual and group rights of its citizens. As part of the protection of group rights, the government has enshrined in its constitution the rights of nations to self-determination, including and up to secession. As part of this right it has included what is known as language rights. Every ethnic group has now the right to use and develop its language. For this purpose, over 25 languages out of the more than 80 languages of the country have become the language of schooling. The question is: in spite of the non-existence of clear discriminatory policy against national minorities today, can we say that language equality has been guaranteed? The central contention made is since the de facto requirement to get job in Addis Ababa is Amharic, and since the rural-urban migration of school age children (especially from the Wolaita) is increasing at an alarming rate, the development of the languages of national minorities will seriously be constrained unless minorities are provided with positive support to be engaged in the same process of nation building as the national majority in their own historical places. Due to the assimilative pressures that emanate from the mainstream society, the languages of minorities will be endangered for two main reasons: (1) If the new arrivals continue to live in the city for life, then they will most likely transmit to their children not their languages but the language of the national majority; (2) Because of the economic significance of Amharic as the lingua franca and the privileged status that it has continued to hold, it has a competitive advantage over other languages. I argue thus that more “enabling conditions” need to be there to ensure genuine language equality. The work is based on the reading of books, journal articles, interviews (formal and informal) and personal observation.

Keywords: national minority, national majority, ‘choice-enabling conditions’, ‘endangered language’


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2520-582X
print ISSN: 1810-4487