Afar language

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Native to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti
Region Horn of Africa
Native speakers
4.2 million (2012)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 aa
ISO 639-2 aar
ISO 639-3 aar
Glottolog afar1241[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Afar language (Afar: 'Qafaraf') (also known as ’Afar Af, Afaraf, Qafar af) is an Afroasiatic language, belonging to the family's Cushitic branch. It is spoken by the Afar people in Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia.


Afar is classified within the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. It is further categorized in the Lowland East Cushitic sub-group, along with Saho and Somali.[3] Its closest relative is the Saho language.[4]

Geographic distribution

The Afar language is spoken as a mother tongue by the Afar people in Djibouti, Eritrea, and the Afar Region of Ethiopia.[4]

According to Ethnologue, there are 1,379,200 total Afar speakers. Of these, 1,280,000 were recorded in the 2007 Ethiopian census, with 906,000 monolinguals registered in the 1994 census.[4]

Official status

In Djibouti, Afar is a recognized national language.[5] It is also one of the broadcasting languages of the Radio Television of Djibouti public network.

In Eritrea, Afar is recognized as one of nine national languages which formally enjoy equal status (although Tigrinya and Arabic are by far of greatest significance in official usage). There are daily broadcasts on the national radio and a translated version of the Eritrean constitution. In education, however, Afar speakers prefer Arabic – which many of them speak as a second language – as the language of instruction.[6]

In the Afar Region of Ethiopia, Afar is also recognized as an official working language.[7]



The consonants of the Afar language in the standard orthography are listed below (with IPA notation in brackets):

  Labial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
Stops voiceless     t  [t]       k  [k]    
voiced   b  [b]   d  [d]   x  [ɖ]     g  [ɡ]    
Fricatives voiceless   f  [f]   s  [s]         c  [ħ]   h  [h]
voiced             q  [ʕ]  
Nasals   m  [m]   n  [n]          
Approximants   w  [w]   l  [l]     y  [j]      
Tap     r  [ɾ]        

Voiceless stop consonants which close syllables are released, e.g., [ʌkʰˈme].

Vowels and stress

  • short
    • a [ʌ]
    • e [e]
    • i [i]
    • o [o]
    • u [u]
  • long
    • aa [aː]
    • ee [eː]
    • ii [iː]
    • oo [oː]
    • uu [uː]

Sentence final vowels of affirmative verbs are aspirated (and stressed), e.g. abeh = /aˈbeʰ/ 'He did.' Sentence final vowels of negative verbs are not aspirated (nor stressed), e.g. maabinna = /ˈmaabinna/ 'He did not do.' Sentence final vowels of interrogative verbs are lengthened (and stressed), e.g. abee? = /aˈbeː/ 'Did he do?' Otherwise, stress in word-final.


As in most other Cushitic languages, the basic word order in Afar is subject–object–verb.[4]


Syllables are of the form (C)V(V)(C). One exception is the three-consonant cluster -str-.

Writing system

In Ethiopia, Afar is written with the Ethiopic or Ge'ez script. Since around 1849, the Latin script has been used in other areas to transcribe the language.[4] Additionally, Afar is also transcribed using the Arabic script.[8]

In the early 1970s, two Afar intellectuals and nationalists, Dimis and Redo, formalized the Afar alphabet. Known as Qafar Feera, the orthography is based on the Latin script.[9]

Officials from the Institut des Langues de Djibouti, the Eritrean Ministry of Education, and the Ethiopian Afar Language Studies and Enrichment Center have since worked with Afar linguists, authors and community representatives to select a standard orthography for Afar from among the various existing writing systems used to transcribe the language.[8]

Latin alphabet

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
a, ba, ca, da, e, fa, ga, ha, i, ja, ka, la, ma, na, o, pa, qa, ra, sa, ta, u, va, wa, ya, za


See also


  1. Afar at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Afar". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lewis, I. (1998). Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar and Saho. Red Sea Press. p. 11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Afar language". Ethnologue. Retrieved 23 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Djibouti". The World Factbook. CIA. Retrieved 31 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Simeone-Senelle, Marie-Claude. "Les langues en Erythrée". Chroniques Yeménites 8, 2000 (in French). maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Kizitus Mpoche, Tennu Mbuh, eds. (2006). Language, literature, and identity. Cuvillier. pp. 163–164. ISBN 3-86537-839-0.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Development of the Afar Language" (PDF). Afar Friends. Retrieved 23 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Afar (ʿAfár af)". Omniglot. Retrieved 23 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Berraka". Qafaraf. Retrieved 2015-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Loren F. Bliese. 1976. "Afar", The Non-Semitic Languages of Ethiopia. Ed. Lionel M. Bender. Ann Arbor, Michigan: African Studies Center, Michigan State University. Pages 133–164.
  • Loren F. Bliese. 1981. A generative grammar of Afar. Summer Institute of Linguistics publications in linguistics vol. 65. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics & The University of Texas at Arlington. ISBN 0-88312-083-6.
  • J.G. Colby. 1970. "Notes on the northern dialect of the Afar language", Journal of Ethiopian Studies 8:1–8.
  • R.J. Hayward and Enid M. Parker. 1985. Afar-English-French dictionary with Grammatical Notes in English. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
  • Richard J. Hayward. 1998. "Qafar (West Cushitic)", Handbook of Morphology. Ed. A. Spencer & A. Zwicky. Oxford: Blackwell. Pages 624-647.
  • Didier Morin. 1997. Poésie traditionnelle des Afars. Langues et cultures africaines, 21 / SELAF vol. 363. Paris/Louvain: Peeters.
  • Enid M. Parker. 2006. English–Afar Dictionary. Washington DC: Dunwoody Press.
  • Rainer M. Voigt. 1975. "Bibliographie des Saho–Afar", Africana Marburgensia 8:53–63.

External links