Silt'e language

Native to Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, Ethiopia
Native speakers
940,000 Silt'e proper (2007 census)[1]
125,000 speakers of Wolane dialect
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
stv  Silt'e
wle  Wolane
Glottolog silt1239[2]

Silt'e (ስልጥኘ [siltʼiɲɲə] or የስልጤ አፍ [jəsiltʼe af]) is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken in central Ethiopia. One of the Ethiopian Semitic languages, its speakers are the Silt'e, who mainly inhabit the Silte Zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region. Speakers of the Wolane dialect mainly inhabit the Kokir Gedebano district of Gurage Zone, as well as the neighbouring Seden Sodo district of Oromia. Some have also settled in urban areas in other parts of the country, especially Addis Ababa.

Speakers and dialects

Dialects of the Silt'e language include: Azernet-Berbere, Silti, Wuriro, Ulbareg and Wolane. There are about 940,000 native Silt'e speakers (2007 census); 125,000 speakers of Wolane.

Sounds and orthography

Consonants and vowels

Silt'e has a fairly typical set of consonants for an Ethiopian Semitic language. There are the usual ejective consonants, alongside plain voiceless and voiced consonants and all of the consonants, except /h/ and /ʔ/, can be geminated, that is, lengthened. However, Silt'e vowels differ considerably from the typical set of seven vowels in languages such as Amharic, Tigrinya and Ge'ez. Silt'e has the set of five short and five long vowels that are typical of the nearby Eastern Cushitic languages, which may be the origin of the Silt'e system. There is considerable allophonic variation within the short vowels, especially for a; the most frequent allophone of /a/, [ə], is shown in the chart. All of the short vowels may be devoiced preceding a pause.

The charts below show the phonemes of Silt'e. For the representation of Silt'e consonants, this article uses a modification of a system that is common (though not universal), among linguists who work on Ethiopian Semitic languages, but differs somewhat from the conventions of the International Phonetic Alphabet. When the IPA symbol is different, it is indicated in brackets in the charts. The symbols /p/ and /ʔ/ (glottal stop) appear in parentheses, because they play only a marginal role in the system, /p/, because it appears in only a few words in the Azarnat dialect and /ʔ/, because (as in Amharic), it is often omitted.

Velar Glottal
Stops Voiceless (p) t k (ʔ)
Voiced b d ɡ
Affricates Voiceless t͡ʃ č
Voiced d͡ʒ ǧ
Ejective t͡ʃʼ čʼ
Fricatives Voiceless f s ʃ š h
Voiced z ʒ ž
Nasals m n ɲ ñ
Approximants w l j y
Flap/Trill ɲ
Front Central Back
High i, ii u, uu
Mid e, ee [ə] š o, oo
Low aa


Since at least the 1980s, Silt'e has been written in the Ge'ez, or Ethiopic, writing system, originally developed for the now-extinct Ge'ez language and most familiar today in its use for Amharic and Tigrinya. This system makes distinctions among only seven vowels, so some of the short-long distinctions in Silt'e are not marked. In practice this probably does not interfere with comprehension because there are relatively few minimal pairs based on vowel length. In written Silt'e, the seven Ethiopic vowels are mapped onto the ten Silt'e vowels as follows:


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


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