ትግረ tigre or ትግሬ tigrē; sometimes written as
Tigré, also known as Xasa in
Arabic الخاصية ḫāṣiyah)
Afro-Asiatic language spoken in
Northeast Africa. It belongs to the
North Ethiopic subdivision of the family's
South Semitic branch, and is primarily spoken by the
Tigre people in
Eritrea. Along with
Tigrinya, it is believed to be one of the direct descendants
of the ancient
Ge'ez language (Ethiopic), a
Semitic tongue which is still in use as the liturgical
language of the
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. As of 1997, Tigre was
spoken by approximately 1000,000 Tigre people in Eritrea. The
Tigre are nearly all found in western Eritrea, with the
remainder inhabiting the adjacent part of
In Eritrea, they reside in the central and northern plateau and
Red Sea shores north of
The Tigre people are not to be confused with their neighbors
to the south, the
Tigray-Tigrinya people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The northern
Ethiopian province which is now named the
Tigray Region is a territory of the Tigrayans. Tigrinya is
also derived from the parent Ge'ez tongue, but is quite distinct
from Tigre despite the similarity in name.
Tigré has preserved the two
pharyngeal consonants of Ge'ez. The Ge'ez vowel inventory
has almost been preserved except that the two vowels which are
phonetically close to
[ɐ] and [a] seem to have evolved into a pair of phonemes
which have the same quality (the same articulation) but differ
in length; [a] vs.
[aː]. The original phonemic distinction according to
quality survives in Tigrinya and
Amharic. The vowel
[ɐ], traditionally named "first order vowel", is most
commonly transcribed ä in Semitic linguistics.
The phonemes of Tigré are displayed below in both
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols (indicated by the IPA
brackets) and the symbols common (though not universal) among linguists
who work on
Ethiopian Semitic languages. For the long vowel
/aː/, the symbol 'ā' is used per Raz (1983). Three consonants,
/p, p', x/, occur only in a small number of loanwords, hence they are
written in parentheses.
As in other Ethiopian Semitic languages, the phonemic status of
/ə/ is questionable; it may be possible to treat it as an
epenthetic vowel that is introduced to break up consonant clusters
Consonant length is phonemic in Tigré (that is, a pair of words can
be distinct by consonant length alone), although there are few such
minimal pairs. Some consonants do not occur long; these include the
pharyngeal consonants, the glottal consonants,
/j/. In this language, long consonants arise almost solely by
gemination as a
morphological process; there are few, if any, long consonants in
word roots. Gemination is especially prominent in verb morphology.
These notes use the spelling adopted by Camperio (1936 - see
bibliography) which seems to approximate to Italian rules.
Nouns are of two genders, masculine and feminine.
- Indefinite article: masculine uoro e.g. uoro ennas
- a man; feminine hatte e.g. hatte sit - a woman.
- The definite article, "the", when expressed, is la.
As we might expect from a Semitic language, specifically feminine
forms, where they exist, are often formed of an element with t:
- masculine: adök - donkey, ass; feminine: edghet -
- masculine: cöleb - dog; feminine: cölbet - bitch;
- masculine: cadma - serving man; cadmaiet -
- masculine: mamba - lord, master; mambait - lady,
In a similar way, sound-changes can also mark the difference between
singular and plural:
- negus - king; negüs - kings;
- ualed - girl; ualid - girls;
- mähör - foal, colt; amhur - foals, colts;
- nebi - prophet; nabiat - prophets;
- beghät - one sheep; avāghe - sheep, plural;
- hog - foot; hanag - feet;
- ezen - ear; ésenz - ears;
- saat - hour; saatat - hours;
- anöf - nose; anfotat - noses;
- hödai - wedding; hözuiom - weddings;
- ab - father; avec - fathers;
- cochöb - star; cauachib - stars;
- gāne - foreigner; ganötat - foreigners;
- rass - head; ares - heads;
- sefes - paw, hoof; atsfar - claws, hooves;
- kaböd - belly; acbud - bellies.
Personal pronouns distinguish "you, masculine" and "you, feminine" in
both singular and plural:
- ana - I, me
- enta - you, singular, masculine
- enti - you, singular, feminine
- hötu - he, him, it (masc.)
- höti - she, her, it (fem.)
- hénna - we, us
- öntu - you, plural, masculine
- öntön - you, plural, feminine
- höntom - they, them, masculine
- hötem - they, them, feminine
The possessive pronouns appear (a) suffixed to the noun, (b) as
- my - (a) -ié example: chitabié - my book; (b)
nai with masculine nouns; naie with feminine nouns;
- your (sing. mas. & fem.) - (a) -cá example: chitabcá
- your book; (b) with masc. naica, with fem. naichi;
- his - (a) -ù example chitabù - his book; (b) with
masc. naiu, with fem. naiua;
- our - (a) -na example chitabna - her book; (b)
with masc. naina, with fem. naina;
- your (pl. masc. & fem.) - (a) -cum example chitabcum
- your book; (b) with masc. naicum, with fem. naicün;
- their - -om example chitabom - their book; (b)
with masc. naium, with fem. naiön.
The verb "to be":
- ana halleco (o) tu - I am; negative: ihalleco -
- enta halleco (o) tu - you (sing. masc.) are; neg.
ihalleco - you're not;
- enti hallechi tu - you (sing. fem.) are; neg. ihalleco;
- hötu halla tu - he is; neg. ihalla;
- höta hallet tu - she is; neg. ihallet;
- henna hallena tu - we are; neg. ihallena;
- entum hallecum tu - you (pl. masc.) are; neg.
- entim hallechen tu - you (pl. fem.) are; neg.
- hötön hallaa tom - they (masc.) are; neg. ihallao;
- hötön halleia ten - they (fem.) are; neg. ihallao.
The verb "to be", past tense:
- ...alco - I was; negative: iálco - I wasn't;
- ...alca - you (sing. masc.) were; neg. iálca;
- ...alchi - you (sing. fem.) were; neg. iálca;
- ...ala - he was; neg. iála;
- ...alet - she was; neg. iállet;
- ...alma - we were; neg. iálna;
- ...alcum - you (pl. masc.) were; neg. iálcum;
- ...alchen - you (pl. fem.) were; neg. iálcum;
- ...alan - they (masc.) were; neg. iálou;
- ...alaia - they (fem.) were; neg. iáleia.
The verb "to have":
- Uoro chitab bi-e - I have a book
- Uoro chitab bö-ca - You (sing. masc.) have a book,
and so on, with the last word in each case:
- ...be-chi - you (sing. fem.), etc.
- ...bu - he...
- ...ba - she...
- ...be-na - we...
- ...be-cum - you (pl. masc.)...
- ...be-chin - you (pl.fem.) ...
- ...bom - they (masc.)...
- ...ben - they (fem.)...
The verb "to have": past tense, using a feminine noun as an example:
- Hatte bēt álet-ölie - I had a house
- Hatte bēt álet-ölca - You (sing. masc.) had a house,
and so on, with the last word in each case:
- ...el-chi - you (sing. fem.) had a house,
- ...álet-öllu - he had, etc.
- ...el-la - she had...
- ...álet-ölma - we had...
- ...álet-elcum - you pl. masc.) had ...
- ...el-cön - you (pl. fem.) had ...
- ...álet-ölum - they (masc.) had ...
- ...álet-ölen - they (fem.) had ...
Arabic script was used to write Tigré, at least among
Ge'ez script has been used since the 1902 translation of the
New Testament by
Dawit Amanuel, and Swedish
Muslim Tigrés still use the Arabic alphabet.[citation
Ge'ez script#Modifications for other languages
Ge'ez script is an
abugida with each character representing a consonant+vowel
combination. Ge'ez and its script are also called Ethiopic. The
script has been modified slightly to write Tigre.
Tigre Ge'ez Script