Language Use in Ethiopian Higher Education Institutions: Study on Language Attitude, Identity and Inter-ethnic Communication

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This study explored language use, national identity, inter-ethnic communication problems and mechanism of resolving them. It focused on Amharic, Afan Oromo, Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers in three Ethiopian Higher Education Institutions-Addis Ababa University, Kotebe Metropolitan University and Addis Ababa Science and Technology University. The study employed mixed method. The data were analyzed concurrently, and the findings were presented in a mode of linear expansion. The study showed that the Afan Oromo native speakers have low proficiency in Amharic while the Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers do have good proficiency in the language. The Amharic language proficiency of all the three ethno-linguistic groups do not change due to place of residence and educational status. All ethno-linguistic groups in the study were limited to the sociolinguistic cicle of their respective native languages at home and in the home community before joining the EHEIs. The Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers, but the Afan Oromo native speakers had good previous practices of using Amharic in the primary and secondary school domains. Amharic is an important language of inside and outside classrooms on-campus to all the four ethno-linguistic groups. Afan Oromo native speakers mainly used Afan Oromo in the off-campus religious domains while the Tigrinya native speakers mainly used Tigrinya in recreational areas, shops and supermarkets. Amharic and English were equally important to the Dha-Anywaa native speakers in the off-campus domains. The Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers have positive attitudes towards Amharic while the Afan Oromo native speakers showed a negative attitude to Amharic. The three ethno-linguistic groups do not believe in Amharic-based linguistic nationalism in Ethiopia. Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers do have preferences and positive attitudes towards the Ethiopic writing system while Afan Oromo native speakers do not. The Tigrinya and Dha-Anywaa native speakers have displayed a stronger knowledge of the Ethiopian literary history, and they were proud of it. The finding on the Afan Oromo native speakers on this issue showed a stark opposite. The Afan Oromo, Tigrinya and xii Dha-Anywaa native speakers have all shown a strong ethno-linguistic identities, self-consciousnesses and affiliations. However, only the latter two groups have displayed strong affiliations towards national identity. Those students with poor Amharic skills, mainly the Afan Oromo native speakers, have communication challenges related to classroom communications, classroom English-Amharic code-switching, and on-campus administrative services.The major cause for the students’ poor Amharic skills was the poor status and the late start of Amharic in regional educational settings. Mechanisms suggested resolving the challenges of inter-ethnic communication in the EHEIs were the following. It is required to offer courses on functionally important major Ethiopian languages to the students of Ethiopian Higher Education Institutions. Classrooms English-Amharic code-switching should be reduced, and scaffolding trainings should offered to students with poor English. Public awareness should also be promoted on the importance of early acquisition of a language. The experiences of India, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania showed that linguistic pluralism based pragmatic understanding of sociolinguistic de facto could enhance national integration. The three-plus-or-minus language policy model with multiple national link language could promote inter-ethnic communication. Hence language policy re-thinking with particular focus on functionally important major Ethiopian languages is necessary in Ethiopia. Such language policy could enhance unified multiple national identity in the country.



study explored language use