Journal of
Languages and Culture

  • Abbreviation: J. Lang. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6540
  • DOI: 10.5897/JLC
  • Start Year: 2010
  • Published Articles: 131


Sociolinguistic challenges of the post-1991 Ethiopian Language Policy

Mesfin Wodajo
  • Mesfin Wodajo
  • Department of English Language and Literature Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 04 June 2013
  •  Accepted: 06 March 2014
  •  Published: 30 June 2014


Ethiopia has witnessed a history of language policies ranging from pre-1991 linguistic assimilation to the post-1991 official multilingualism. Though many articles have been written on Ethiopia’s current language policy, little attention has been given to the current policy’s challenges and future consequences. Hence, the intention of this article is to reflect upon challenges and future consequences of the current Ethiopian language policy. Since the concern of language policy in linguistically diverse countries like Ethiopia is fairly complex, this article focuses only on four major issues: bilingualism, rural-urban migration, language policy models and linguistic human rights.  These points are first explored on the basis of the existing language policy-related sociolinguistic conceptual frameworks; thereafter the current challenges and a forecast on the potential future consequences of the current Ethiopian language policy are discussed. Taking the three-language model into account, Ethiopia currently lacks a de jury language of interethnic/intergroup communication. The ongoing urbanization, due to a high degree rural-urban migration and the horizontal expansion of metropolitan areas are creating a complex sociolinguistic profile in urban areas, putting citizens’ linguistic human rights at risk. The pre-1991 most prevalent bilingual nature of the society is swiftly shifting and regional monolingualism is on the rise. This trend will predictably turn some regions into linguistic islands and put communication at cross regional and national level at risk. The unfolding sociolinguistic dynamics calls for urgent language policy rethinking in Ethiopia.

Key words: National language, symmetric multilingualism, exoglossic language policy.