The Department of Linguistics was established in the academic year 1978/79 as one of the four departments constituting the former Institute of Language Studies (ILS). Initially, the Department ran both undergraduate and graduate programs and trained quite a number of linguists. Most of them got important positions in the ministries of culture and education, in regional offices as well as in institutions of higher education and research. However, the Department of Linguistics had to suspend its undergraduate program in 1989, after a decade of successful training, but managed to continue with its MA program. Starting from 1991 full recognition was given to the languages and cultures of the various linguistic groups in Ethiopia, which generated a great demand for trained linguists at regional and national level. In order to meet these needs, the undergraduate program was reinstalled in the academic year 1995/96 but suspended again for three years in 1999. Since its last reinstallment in the academic year 2002/3, a remarkable number of students graduated with a BA degree in Linguistics. An in-house PhD program in Linguistics was launched in the academic year 2006/7. In addition, the Department of Linguistics was (and still is) running joint PhD programs with the University of Cologne (Germany) and the University of Oslo (Norway); it also initiated close collaboration with the University of Florence (Italy) and the University of Leiden (Netherlands). Consequently, the Department of Linguistics extended its teaching and research activities in the early 2000s to include Ethiopian philology, the documentation of endangered languages, experimental phonetics, etc., besides general and descriptive linguistics. Due to these activities, the department was renamed into Department of Linguistics and Philology. After the restructuring of Addis Ababa University in 2010, the Department of Linguistics and Philology became part of the newly founded Faculty of Humanities and split up into four separate units, namely, the Department of Linguistics, the Philology Program Unit, the Language Technology Program Unit and the Sign Language and Deaf Culture Program Unit.
The Department of Linguistics attracted highly qualified local and international scholars who are engaged in teaching and research. Currently, a BA program in General Linguistics, a MA program in General Linguistics (with optional specializations in Theoretical and Descriptive Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Applied Linguistics, or Historical and Comparative Linguistics), and a PhD program in General Linguistics are offered. In addition, the Department of Linguistics runs together with the Department of English a joint PhD program in Applied Linguistics. The implementation of the four streams in the MA program opens opportunities for students to choose Sociolinguistics, Historical Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, etc. as focus area. This is a departure from the previous practice that mainly concentrated on theoretical linguistics and linguistic core areas.
The main objective of the Department of Linguistics is to train linguists for the documentation, the description, and the development of Ethiopian languages. Although the Department of Linguistics is mainly involved in teaching, it also has a strong research tradition and plays, thus, a major role for the preservation of Ethiopia’s linguistic heritage and for the promotion of individual languages.
The Department of Linguistics provides consultancy services to organizations that promote languages in specific communities, it organizes workshops and/or short-term trainings for people involved in mother tongue education, lexicography, orthography development, and it promotes individual and collaborative research on Ethiopian languages, with emphasis on endangered and little-known languages.