|A Ge'ez inscription at the Debre Libanos monastery|
Amharic, the mother tongue of the Amhara (Ethiopia's dominant ethnic group) and official language of the country, is central Ethiopia's uniqueness. Though technically a Semitic language (and thus distantly related to Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew), Amharic seemed to me to share few roots or words in common with those languages.
After years of studying Arabic, and forcing my mouth to make some very unfamiliar noises, I still had great difficulty emulating the sounds of Amharic. (Is it even possible to combine a consonant and glottal stop? Apparently so, but my tongue can't manage it.) At times, the snippets of conversation floating along the streets reminded me fleetingly of Arabic—no wait, Hebrew—no wait,