Studenter workshop Etiopia
Workshops for educators and local authorities for signed and spoken languages.
Photo: Dr. Binyam Sisay Mendisu

Linguistic Capacity Building – Tools for the inclusive development of Ethiopia

University collaboration to increase the knowledge and capacity at Ethiopian universities to develop resources for disadvantaged spoken and signed languages

Project title: Linguistic Capacity Building – tools for the inclusive development of Ethiopia


Ethiopia’s population of 82 million people speak 89 languages, plus sign language. Manifold social and cultural contacts among speakers of these languages are reflected in the widespread bi- and multilingualism across the country. 

The number of speakers of the Ethiopian languages differs significantly. According to national reports, only 27 out of the country’s 89 languages have been introduced as the language of instruction and/or school subjects at primary school level. Many of the languages introduced as subjects and medium of instruction in schools do not have proper orthographies, dictionaries, and primers, etc.

In addition, there is an estimated 2.5 million deaf and hard to hearing people in Ethiopia. Deaf children are generally only being taught sign vocabulary and not the structure of the language. As a consequence, deaf children are learning the sign vocabulary outside context, with the possible effect of lifelong language and academic handicap.

Universities for development

The project goal is that staff and graduate students at the linguistic departments at Addis Ababa University and Hawassa University will have competence and resources on how to best implement language resources and standardisation for marginalised, disadvantaged languages, including sign language, for the benefit of the Ethiopian society and people.

Central documents both nationally in Ethiopia and internationally state that education in the mother tongue is essential for good learning and education, and thus for the development of the society.

The project will be addressing the need for well-qualified and professional language and cultural experts, researchers and academics who may contribute to the amelioration of the education in mother tongue. The project’s aim is thus to provide the possibilities for children and adult speakers of the languages to use them in education and other democratic arenas that are important for the development of modern Ethiopia.

Innovative teaching and language technology laboratory

The project will strengthen existing MA and PhD programmes at partner institutions, but also develop two new MA programmes, one in multilingual studies at Hawassa University and one in sign language at Addis Ababa University.

A language technology laboratory will be established at the Linguistics Department at Addis Ababa University. Corpus development of four written languages will be crucial for technology development inside and outside the project. For the spoken and signed languages, multimedia interface will be developed.

The project will also be working closely with local authorities and educators, and offer a number of workshops for educators and local authorities for signed and spoken languages.

Key goals and achievements

Overall goal

To increase resources and opportunities for children and adult speakers of disadvantaged spoken and signed languages to use their mother tongue in Ethiopia.

The objectives of the project are

  1. Increased capacity and competence at Addis Ababa University and Hawassa University  in a. how the Ethiopian language is built up b. how to develop writing systems, dictionaries and grammars c. how to exploit language technology for disadvantaged languages
  2. Strengthen capacity and competence among local educators and authorities in new knowledge on the disadvantaged spoken and signed languages obtained in the project
Published 24.06.2013
Last updated 16.02.2015

Total budget

2013-2018: 17,5 million NOK

Contact persons for the project

Dr. Binyam Sisay Mendisu, Department of Linguistics, Addis Ababa University

Dr. Nigussie Meshesha Mitike, School of Language and Communication Studies, Hawassa University

Prof. Janne Bondi Johannessen, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo

Prof. Bjørn Gamback, Department of Computer and Information Technology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology