Are Turkish and Amharic Related? Are They Ever!
April May June, Freshman in Elementary Education
Indiana University at Bloomington
well-known from my L103 class that Turkish and Amharic
supposedly aren't related, though it is no longer clear which
languages they are related to. However, I have found lots of words
in the two languages which sound alike and mean the same thing in
only two months of hearing them spoken in two local restaurants. The
similarities first caught my attention during an argument at the
Turkish restaurant in which the owner kept saying "sought." The next
day I heard it at the Ethiopian restaurant I always eat at, so I
asked the waitress what it meant. The next time I ate at the Turkish
restaurant, I asked the waitress what it meant, and would you believe
it, it meant the same thing! The next day I realized I should write
it down so I wouldn't forget it, and after that I made notes of all
the similar words I learned from the waitresses at the two
"Because everyone uses language to talk, everyone thinks they can talk about language."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The informant sessions took place three times a week for each
restaurant around meal times. Whenever the waitress came near my
table, I asked her how she would say two or three really simple
words, like the ones we were taught how to teach second-graders how
to spell. (They had a fancy name in L103 class, but I don't remember
it.) The Turkish waitress would even write them down for me when the
owner wasn't looking, because he would yell at her that he was
running a restaurant, not a school. However, when I asked the
Ethiopian waitress to write down the words she had told me, all she
did was doodle. After that I wrote down what they sounded like and
took them to my sour old AI, Mr. Thompson, who refused at first to
transcribe them for me. "Do your own damn work! I swear, the reason
they don't have an honor code here is so the students can turn in
their homework." I then asked him when he switched from coffee to
whiskey in the mornings before office hours, and did the
administration know. He then agreed to transcribe the Amharic words
for me. I must have done a good job because he was smiling by the
time he finished and urged me to publish my results in your journal.
"Publish and perish, I always say," he told me, and I said, "At least
I'll get published," which for some reason made him really mad, but
he always was a jerk in class.
"Language is a poor thing. You fill your lungs with wind and shake a little slit in your throat, and make mouths, and that shakes the air; and the air shakes a pair of little drums in my head--a very complicated arrangement, with lots of bones behind--and my brain seizes your meaning in the rough. What a roundabout way, and what a waste of time."
--George du Maurier
The words are listed in the table I made below, with the English
meaning on the right like we were taught in L103. As you can see,
all of them are really simple words any second-grader would know,
which is what makes two languages related. In case you're not
familiar with Amharic, the dot under the t means it's a sympathetic
consonant, which is really funny because when I first heard it I
thought the waitress was irritated with me. In conclusion, I hoped
to have more words to share, but my research ended when my funding
was cut, though Daddy promises to restore it if my grades improve.
"Language was conceived in sin, and science is its redemption."
--W. V. Quine