The following is a statement from the Oromo Studies Association (OSA).
P.O.Box: 6541, Minneapolis, MN 55406-0541: OromoStudies.org
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
200 Catherine St. Suite 101
Ottawa, ON K2P 2K9
Subject: OSA Letter Requesting the Correction of Erroneous Oromo Language Classifications Published on Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Website
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), a multi-disciplinary scholarly international organization established in the United States to promote studies relevant to the Oromo people. Recently, members of OSA identified erroneous classifications of the Oromo language on the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) Agency’s language database linked to online immigration forms designed to facilitate immigration application processing (see Appendix 1). The database identifies four different “variants” of the Oromo language as depicted in Appendix 1. The classifications adopted are not only erroneous, but at least one of the designations used – “Oromo-Qotu” – is derogatory and extremely insulting to the great Oromo people of East Africa.
We believe that the linguistic sources behind this erroneous classification has its roots in historical misinformation campaigns perpetrated against the Oromo people by successive Abyssinian (Ethiopian) rulers, and therefore, it is very important to put this erroneous classification in a historical context. The Oromo people in Ethiopia have been subjugated by the Ethiopian rulers since the last quarter of 19th century. Since then, the Oromo language was banned for use in education, the mass-media and public life; Afan Oromo was banned first during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, and subsequently, during the communist regime that followed the Emperor’s overthrow. Since 1992, the ban has been lifted and the language is used in the Oromiya State with some restrictions.
All along, the successive Ethiopian regimes, including the current regime, have embarked on deliberate and systematic campaigns of misinformation about the Oromo people, their language and culture in order to sustain the subjugation of the Oromo people. Volumes of propaganda literature have been written that are designed to dehumanize the people, ridicule their culture and deliberately fabricate artificial linguistic classifications among inhabitants of the various regions of Oromiya. The ultimate goal of such campaigns is to create false stories designed to weaken the unity of the Oromo people and to misinform the international community which would rely on the propaganda literature for information on Oromo issues. We suspect the sources for the CIC’s Oromo language classification is directly based on such literature or it is based on some genuine independent works that might have been influenced by the former. For instance, the World Languages, a Virginia-based language organization that provides information on world languages to government agencies and businesses, erroneously classifies Afan Oromo (Oromo language) into three regions; Western, Eastern and Southern Oromo languages.
Contrary to the misinformation campaigns, linguistic evidences clearly demonstrate the uniformity/singleness of the Oromo language both in its spoken and written versions in all regions of Oromiya. In recent years, the Journal of Oromo Studies (JOS) documented the uniformity of the Oromo language and published research papers.
These recent JOS publications on Oromo language include:
I. Dr Tilahun Gamta’s article, Qube Affan Oromo: Reasons for Choosing the Latin Script for Developing an Oromo Alphabet in the Journal of Oromo Studies, Summer 1993 Volume 1 Number 1 (see page 36). Professor Tilahun wrote that over 1000 Oromo scholars convened in Finfinne (Addis Abeba) on November 3, 1991 to adopt Latin scripts for Oromo writing system, known as Qubee, in order to improve education process for Oromo masses.
II. Journal of Oromo Studies 1995 Volume 1 & 2 and Number 1 & 2 has details on earlier research conducted by Oromo Students Study groups in Europe in 1972. Dr. Feyisa Demie wrote an article titled Special Features in Oromiffa [Afan Oromo] and Reasons for Adopting Latin Scripts for Developing Oromo Orthography (p. 22).
III. Another very important source that demonstrates Oromo language as having uniformity is the bilingual Oromo-English dictionary written in 1913 by Edwin Foot and Liban Bultum and published by Cambridge Press. In the preface of the dictionary, Edwin Foot states the following regarding the Oromo people: “Though there are marked local differences in dialects even in Abyssinia itself, as for instance between that of the Oromos of the highlands and that of the Borana, yet the language is so essentially constant that the women and children of the Gurri tribe [nation], who inhabit the El Wak oasis and surrounding districts under their chief Gababa, talk the same dialect as those of the Walega; though the men of the tribe [nation], who travel about and have dealings with other tribes [nation], use many Somali and even Arabic words.”
IV. The current Oromiya State, where Afan Oromo is an official language, does not recognize any Oromo language classifications, and it uses one single Oromo language in its law courts, schools and official communications. There is only one official Afan Oromo that the Oromo know.
As mentioned earlier, the Oromo language has dialects and accents as do most other world languages. However, as far as we know language classifications can never be based on minor differences of dialects. For instance, the Swedish language has more than half a dozen dialects. The differences between some of Swedish dialects are much pronounced than the differences among Oromo language dialects, yet Swedish language is not erroneously presented as separate languages in CIC’s database. Similarly, American English spoken in New York and Southern States, such as in Alabama, are not categorized as separate languages requiring unique translators even though distinct dialects and accents are apparent. The Ethiopian Amharic language has more than three dialects, but it is presented as one single language in CIC’s database. There appears to be a double standard here due to, perhaps, the lack of awareness among your linguistic specialists about the historical context in which the Oromo language operates.
Call for Action
We understand that not enough information is published regarding the Oromo people, their language and culture that are readily available to the international community. However, over the past decades, the Oromo Studies Association has diligently worked to provide key information to human rights organizations, researchers and policy makers. It is important to recognize that, within the Oromiya State of Ethiopia, Oromo language is a uniform single language used in school textbooks, Oromo law courts and official communications. The language is not written in different dialects nor is there any classification of Oromo language recognized neither by the current Oromiya State nor by the Oromo people at large. All Oromo students from all over Oromiya take the same standardized Afan Oromo tests before enrolling in college and in college.
In light of these glaring facts, we urge you:
•To correct your database to include ONLY ONE Oromo language – spelled as “Afaan Oromo”;
•To review the sources of the information used to erroneously classify the Oromo language to ensure similar mistakes will not be repeated in the future;
•To use Oromo scholarly sources for Oromo cultural, linguistic and political issues in order to ensure accuracy and acceptability to the target population;
•To engage Oromo Studies Association in all future collaborative efforts on Oromo cultural, linguistic and political issues.
Ibrahim Amae Elemo M.D., MPH
President, Oromo Studies Association
Oromo Studies Association,
Minneapolis, MN 55406-0541
1. About World Languages: The Technology Development Group: Leesburg, VA: http://aboutworldlanguages.com/oromo
2. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Washington, D.C. http://www.uscis.gov
3. International organizations broadcasting in Afan Oromo and providing translation services to Oromo refugees worldwide.
Appendix 1. Screenshot of Oromo language classification from Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.