Aari language

This article is about a language. For Russian research institute, see Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.
Native to Ethiopia
Region north central Omo Region
Native speakers
240,000 (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aiw
Glottolog aari1239[2]

Aari (also rendered Ari, Ara, Aro, Aarai) is an Omotic language of Ethiopia. The speakers of this language have been known as Shankilla (or Shanqella), a name which is considered derogatory.

Dialects are Bako, Biyo (Biya), Laydo, Seyki, Shangama, Sido, Wubahamer, Zeddo. Literacy in Aari is about 10%. The first translation of the New Testament into Aari was published in 1997.


In the late 1800s, Amhara rulers were sent to the Omo River region by Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. By the early 1900s, the Amhara rulers had become owners of the region and the Aari became serfs. In addition, a strong alcoholic beverage known as 'araqe was introduced to the area and the Aari culture began to decline. The decline was reverted in 1974 when the monarchy was overthrown and the Aari were able to reclaim their traditional lands. Since then, social and economic situations have improved dramatically and interest in education has flourished; most Aari towns today have at least one school. Faith is also a way of life in all Aari communities and most towns have an Orthodox church; there is a significant population of Aari who practice their traditional beliefs as well.

Current status

Aari has a population of 235,000 first language speakers as of 2007, of which 129,350 are monolingual. 13,319 second language users were also recorded in 2007. The ethnic population is 155,002 as of 1989.

Aari is used at home and at local markets. The size of the Aari tribe is growing, and thus the Aari language has seen an increase in language use and development in recent years. The language is learned by all of the Aari people and some members of neighboring tribes as well. Many Aari speakers also use Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, or Wolaytta, the language of a neighboring Omotic people.


There are nine dialects of the Aari language, each dialect being associated with a former chiefdom. While these dialects are mutually intelligible with one another, some also have distinct features.

The following are dialects of Aari. Alternate names are given in parenthesis.



The Aari language has five vowel sounds: i, e, a, o, and u. Vowels in Aari are generally pronounced with a murmured quality, so basically when pronouncing vowels one exhales slightly dramatically to achieve the correct sound. Some vowels are not pronounced with a breathy quality; one way to guarantee that a word is pronounced in such a way is if the word contains the letter h. The letter h is not used often in the language and may be disappearing from it, but the breathy phonation is still pronounced for most vowels. When reading Aari in the Latin script, vowels are generally breathy if there is an accent or some kind of indicator above the letter.[3]


Aari is a subject-object-verb language (SOV), meaning that the English sentence "the cow (subject) ate (verb) the grass (object)" would translate back from Aari as "cow (subject) grass (object) ate (verb)."


In Aari, causative forms of most verbs can be made by adding the suffix -sis- to the verb stem. For example: the verb stem buruk, meaning "boil." The causative stem of buruk- is burukš-, making this verb irregular. If we want to say "to boil," we add the infinitive to the stem buruk; in this case the infinitive (also called the verbal noun suffix) is -inti, translating "to boil" as burukinti. The causative third-person singular perfect (past tense) of burukinti is búrukse ("it boiled"). To put the verb into the present tense, one would say búrukše, "he boils [something]."

With the verb buruk, we can use a vocabulary word to describe something being boiled (thus making a simple sentence). Búrukše... means "he boiled...", so "he boiled water" would be noqá búrukše. Note that in Aari the subject comes before the verb; búrukše noqá is not correct.


Aari uses a Latin script and an Ethiopic script, but below 10% of Aari speakers can read. Schooling is not well developed in this region of the world, so Aari is mostly spoken rather than written down and most speakers have no use for the language's two writing systems. However, despite this, there are schools in numerous villages and there are efforts to promote education and literacy. At present, 8% of second language users are literate in Aari. The New Testament was translated into Aari in 1997. Additionally, some other books have been translated into Aari to help promote literacy; Genesis Exodus, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Esther, Ruth, Psalms, Leviticus, Joshua and Judges have all been translated into Aari, but at present only Genesis has been published. Some external organizations are working with Aari churches to write a complete Aari Bible and increase the literacy rate.




  1. Aari at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Aari". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

External links

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