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Review of  Initia Amharica: An Introduction to Spoken Amharic

Reviewer: Matt Coler
Book Title: Initia Amharica: An Introduction to Spoken Amharic
Book Author: C. H. Armbruster
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Amharic
Book Announcement: 22.2099

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AUTHOR: C. H. Armbruster
TITLE: Initia Amharica: An Introduction to Spoken Amharic
SUBTITLE: Volume 3, Amharic-English Vocabulary with Phrases: An Introduction to
Spoken Amharic
SERIES TITLE: Cambridge Library Collection - Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2010

Matt Coler, Department of Linguistics, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the


Initia Amharica volume III is the final installment of the three-volume series
on the Amharic language. This particular volume is comprised of two separate
books and is exclusively concerned with offering a detailed vocabulary list of
the language, with plenty of references to commonly-spoken expressions. Entries
are given in the Amharic Fidel abugida script with a rough phonetic
transcription. Frequent reference is made to etymology and other sources.
Entries are organized alphabetically by Amharic.

The first book of volume III begins with a brief preface, several pages of
abbreviations, and a phonological sketch (evidently summarized directly from
volume I). The majority of the text in this overview is devoted to outlining the
correspondence between the author's adaptation of the phonetic alphabet and
Amharic orthography. Thereafter, the rest of book 1 and the entirety of book 2
is concerned solely with the Amharic > English lexicon.


This two-part book is just part of Armbruster's introduction to Amharic, and
does not contain the (potentially more interesting) first volume, which offers a
grammatical sketch of the language. On its own, the Amharic > English vocabulary
with phrases is of principal interest to those with extensive working knowledge
of the language who are interested in usages and etymologies. Readers should be
aware that many of the entries are cross-referenced to chapters and sub-chapters
in the grammatical description in volume I, so this book would be most useful
when used in conjunction the complete set.

No evaluation of this work would be possible without reference to its historical
import. It is a wonder that Armbruster found the time to write all three volumes
over the course of twelve years following his brief diplomatic mission in
Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) as a civil servant in the Anglo-Sudan government.
Aside from writing this massive work, he simultaneously worked on several
political missions throughout Africa, serving as an Intelligence Officer in
Somaliland, an Examiner in Amharic for the Sudanese government, and for three
years as a member of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force during WWI.

''An Introduction to Spoken Amharic'' differs from previous works on this language
by taking as a starting point two principal distinctions: (1) it is one of the
first descriptions of the language to be written in English; and (2) it focuses
on the spoken, colloquial form of the language as opposed to a description
founded on biblical and literary manuscripts. In a way, this approach may
represent the beginning of language description as we know it now; a departure
from previous prescriptive grammatical descriptions (although the extent of the
validity of this observation would be best borne out by studying the grammatical
description in volume I, not part of this review).

Armbruster's attention to detail of the nuances of the spoken language is
evident in entries like that of mạrạq, 'soup, broth', which is accompanied by a
proverb given both in phonetic transcription and Amharic graphemes: ''I must
abstain from the meat, but please get me out some of the broth (from the pot).''
Armbruster then gives the etymology and the related form in Arabic and Hebrew
script as well.

As the volume is organized Amharic to English and not vice-versa (in comparison
to volume II, which apparently provides 496 pages of English to Amharic
vocabulary, as well as some notes on verbal inflection), it is difficult to
gauge the depth of the lexical entries in the book; nonetheless there is little
doubt that ''An Introduction to Spoken Amharic'' volume III is a very detailed
lexicon which, in the context of its time, represents a significant step forward
for the nascent domain of (spoken) Semitic language description.

Matt Coler is a post-doctoral researcher in the department of Amazonian languages at the VU University Amsterdam. His principal areas of interest include language description (specifically Andean languages) and morphology.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781108013291
Pages: 426
Prices: U.K. £ 21.99