Tigre language

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ትግራይት Tigrayit, ኻሳ Xasa
Native to Eritrea, Sudan
Native speakers
1.05 million in Eritrea (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 tig
ISO 639-3 tig
Glottolog tigr1270[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tigre (Ge'ez: ትግረ tigre or ትግሬ tigrē), better known in Eritrea by its autonym Tigrayit (Ge'ez: ትግራይት), and also known by speakers in Sudan as Xasa (Arabic: الخاصية‎‎ ḫāṣiyah), is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Northeast Africa. It belongs to the North Ethiopic subdivision of the family's South Semitic branch, and is primarily spoken by the Tigre people in Eritrea. Along with Tigrinya, it is believed to be one of the direct descendants of the ancient Ge'ez language (Ethiopic), a Semitic tongue which is still in use as the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. As of 1997, Tigre was spoken by approximately 800,000 Tigre people in Eritrea.[3] The Tigre mainly inhabit western Eritrea, though they also reside in the northern highlands of Eritrea and its extension into the adjacent part of Sudan, as well as Eritrea's Red Sea coast north of Zula.

The Tigre people are not to be confused with their neighbors to the south, the Tigray-Tigrinya people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The northern Ethiopian province which is now named the Tigray Region is a territory of the Tigrayans. Tigrinya is also derived from the parent Ge'ez tongue, but is quite distinct from Tigre despite the similarity in name.


Tigre has preserved the two pharyngeal consonants of Ge'ez. The Ge'ez vowel inventory has almost been preserved except that the two vowels which are phonetically close to [ɐ] and [a] seem to have evolved into a pair of phonemes which have the same quality (the same articulation) but differ in length; [a] vs. [aː]. The original phonemic distinction according to quality survives in Tigrinya and Amharic. The vowel [ɐ], traditionally named "first order vowel", is most commonly transcribed ä in Semitic linguistics.

The phonemes of Tigre are displayed below in both International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols (indicated by the IPA brackets) and the symbols common (though not universal) among linguists who work on Ethiopian Semitic languages. For the long vowel /aː/, the symbol 'ā' is used per Raz (1983). Three consonants, /p, p', x/, occur only in a small number of loanwords, hence they are written in parentheses.

As in other Ethiopian Semitic languages, the phonemic status of /ə/ is questionable; it may be possible to treat it as an epenthetic vowel that is introduced to break up consonant clusters.

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless (p) t č [tʃ] k ʔ
voiced b d ǧ [dʒ] ɡ
ejective (pʼ) č' [tʃʼ]
Fricative voiceless f s š [ʃ] (x) ħ h
voiced z ž [ʒ] ʕ
Approximant l y [j] w
Rhotic r
Front Central Back
Close i ə [ɨ] u
Mid e o
Open a, ā [aː]

Consonant length

Consonant length is phonemic in Tigre (that is, a pair of words can be distinct by consonant length alone), although there are few such minimal pairs. Some consonants do not occur long; these include the pharyngeal consonants, the glottal consonants, /w/, and /j/. In this language, long consonants arise almost solely by gemination as a morphological process; there are few, if any, long consonants in word roots. Gemination is especially prominent in verb morphology.

Remarks on Tigre grammar

These notes use the spelling adopted by Camperio (1936 - see bibliography) which seems to approximate to Italian rules.

Nouns are of two genders, masculine and feminine.

  • Indefinite article: masculine uoro e.g. uoro ennas - a man; feminine hatte e.g. hatte sit - a woman.
  • The definite article, "the", when expressed, is la.

As we might expect from a Semitic language, specifically feminine forms, where they exist, are often formed of an element with t:

  • masculine: adök - donkey, ass; feminine: edghet - she-ass;
  • masculine: cöleb - dog; feminine: cölbet - bitch;
  • masculine: cadma - serving man; cadmaiet - serving-woman;
  • masculine: mamba - lord, master; mambait - lady, mistress.

In a similar way, sound-changes can also mark the difference between singular and plural:

  • negus - king; negüs - kings;
  • ualed - girl; ualid - girls;
  • mähör - foal, colt; amhur - foals, colts;
  • nebi - prophet; nabiat - prophets;
  • beghät - one sheep; avāghe - sheep, plural;
  • hog - foot; hanag - feet;
  • ezen - ear; ésenz - ears;
  • saat - hour; saatat - hours;
  • anöf - nose; anfotat - noses;
  • hödai - wedding; hözuiom - weddings;
  • ab - father; avec - fathers;
  • cochöb - star; cauachib - stars;
  • gāne - foreigner; ganötat - foreigners;
  • rass - head; ares - heads;
  • sefes - paw, hoof; atsfar - claws, hooves;
  • kaböd - belly; acbud - bellies.

Personal pronouns distinguish "you, masculine" and "you, feminine" in both singular and plural:

  • ana - I, me
  • enta - you, singular, masculine
  • enti - you, singular, feminine
  • hötu - he, him, it (masc.)
  • höti - she, her, it (fem.)
  • hénna - we, us
  • öntu - you, plural, masculine
  • öntön - you, plural, feminine
  • höntom - they, them, masculine
  • hötem - they, them, feminine

The possessive pronouns appear (a) suffixed to the noun, (b) as separate words:

  • my - (a) -ié example: chitabié - my book; (b) nai with masculine nouns; naie with feminine nouns;
  • your (sing. mas. & fem.) - (a) -cá example: chitabcá - your book; (b) with masc. naica, with fem. naichi;
  • his - (a) example chitabù - his book; (b) with masc. naiu, with fem. naiua;
  • our - (a) -na example chitabna - her book; (b) with masc. naina, with fem. naina;
  • your (pl. masc. & fem.) - (a) -cum example chitabcum - your book; (b) with masc. naicum, with fem. naicün;
  • their - -om example chitabom - their book; (b) with masc. naium, with fem. naiön.

The verb "to be":

  • ana halleco (o) tu - I am; negative: ihalleco - I'm not;
  • enta halleco (o) tu - you (sing. masc.) are; neg. ihalleco - you're not;
  • enti hallechi tu - you (sing. fem.) are; neg. ihalleco;
  • hötu halla tu - he is; neg. ihalla;
  • höta hallet tu - she is; neg. ihallet;
  • henna hallena tu - we are; neg. ihallena;
  • entum hallecum tu - you (pl. masc.) are; neg. ihallecum;
  • entim hallechen tu - you (pl. fem.) are; neg. ihallecum;
  • hötön hallaa tom - they (masc.) are; neg. ihallao;
  • hötön halleia ten - they (fem.) are; neg. ihallao.

The verb "to be", past tense:

  • ...alco - I was; negative: iálco - I wasn't;
  • ...alca - you (sing. masc.) were; neg. iálca;
  • ...alchi - you (sing. fem.) were; neg. iálca;
  • ...ala - he was; neg. iála;
  • ...alet - she was; neg. iállet;
  • ...alma - we were; neg. iálna;
  • ...alcum - you (pl. masc.) were; neg. iálcum;
  • ...alchen - you (pl. fem.) were; neg. iálcum;
  • ...alan - they (masc.) were; neg. iálou;
  • ...alaia - they (fem.) were; neg. iáleia.

The verb "to have":

  • Uoro chitab bi-e - I have a book
  • Uoro chitab bö-ca - You (sing. masc.) have a book,

and so on, with the last word in each case:

  • ...be-chi - you (sing. fem.), etc.
  • ...bu - he...
  • ...ba - she...
  • ...be-na - we...
  • ...be-cum - you (pl. masc.)...
  • ...be-chin - you (pl.fem.) ...
  • ...bom - they (masc.)...
  • ...ben - they (fem.)...

The verb "to have": past tense, using a feminine noun as an example:

  • Hatte bēt álet-ölie - I had a house
  • Hatte bēt álet-ölca - You (sing. masc.) had a house,

and so on, with the last word in each case:

  • ...el-chi - you (sing. fem.) had a house,
  • ...álet-öllu - he had, etc.
  • ...el-la - she had...
  • ...álet-ölma - we had...
  • ...álet-elcum - you pl. masc.) had ...
  • ...el-cön - you (pl. fem.) had ...
  • ...álet-ölum - they (masc.) had ...
  • ...álet-ölen - they (fem.) had ...

Writing system

Traditionally, the Arabic script was used to write Tigre, at least among Muslims. Ge'ez script has been used since the 1902 translation of the New Testament by Tewolde-Medhin Gebre-Medhin, Dawit Amanuel, and Swedish missionaries. Many Muslim Tigres still use the Arabic alphabet.[citation needed]

Ge'ez script

See also: Ge'ez script#Modifications for other languages

Ge'ez script is an abugida with each character representing a consonant+vowel combination. Ge'ez and its script are also called Ethiopic. The script has been modified slightly to write Tigre.

Tigre Ge'ez Script
  ä u i a e ə o wi wa we
  ä u i a e ə o wi wa we

See also


  1. Tigre at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tigre". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Eritrean census figure cited by Ethnologue.

External links


  • Camperio, Manfredo. Manuale Pratico della Lingua Tigrè, Hoepli, Milano, 1936.
  • Voigt, Rainer (2008), "Zum Tigre", in: Aethiopica (International Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies), volume 11, Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag 2008, pp. 173–193.
  • Beaton, A.C. & A. Paul (1954). A grammar and vocabulary of the Tigre language (as spoken by the Beni Amer). Khartoum: Publications Bureau.
  • Elias, David L. (2005). Tigre of Habab: Short Grammar and Texts from the Rigbat People. Ph.D dissertation. Harvard University.
  • Elias, David L. (2014). The Tigre Language of Gindaˁ, Eritrea. Brill.
  • Leslau, Wolf. (1945) Short Grammar of Tigré. Publications of the American Oriental Society, Offprint Series, No. 18. New Haven: American Oriental Society.
  • Leslau, Wolf. (1945), "The Verb in Tigré", in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 65/1, pp. 1–26.
  • Leslau, Wolf. (1945), "Grammatical Sketches in Tigré (North Ethiopic): Dialect of Mensa", in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 65/3, pp. 164–203.
  • Leslau, Wolf. (1948), "Supplementary observations on Tigré grammar", in: Journal of the American Oriental Society 68/3, pp. 127–139.
  • Littmann, E. (1897), "Die Pronomina in Tigré", in: Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 12, pp. 188–230, 291-316.
  • Littmann, Enno. (1898), "Das Verbum der Tigre-Sprache", in: Zeitschrift für Assyrologie 13, pp. 133–178; 14, pp. 1–102.
  • Littmann, Enno. (1910–15). Publications of the Princeton expedition to Abyssinia, 4 vols. in 4, Leyden.
  • Littmann, Enno. and Höfner, Maria. (1962) Wörterbuch der Tigrē-Sprache: Tigrē-Deutsch-Englisch. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag.
  • Nakano, Aki'o & Yoichi Tsuge (1982). A Vocabulary of Beni Amer Dialect of Tigre. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa.
  • Palmer, F.R. (1956). "'Openness' in Tigre: a problem in prosodic statement", in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 18/3, pp. 561–577.
  • Palmer, F.R. (1961). "Relative clauses in Tigre", in: Word 17/1, pp. 23–33.
  • Palmer, F.R. (1962). The morphology of the Tigre noun. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Raz, Shlomo. (1980). "Tigre syntax and Semitic Ethiopian", in: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 43/2, pp. 235–250.
  • Raz, Shlomo. (1980). "The morphology of the Tigre verb (Mansaʿ dialect)", in: Journal of Semitic Studies 25/1, pp. 66–84; 25/2, pp. 205–238.
  • Raz, Shlomo. (1983). Tigre grammar and texts. Malibu, California, USA: Undena Publications.
  • Sundström, R. (1914). "Some Tigre texts", in: Le Monde Orientale 8, pp. 1–15.

ca:Llengua tigre