Ethiopia is (perhaps) the only Black African country (together with Eritrea) that can boast of a rich heritage of written sources available in its own indigenous languages that spans a period close to two thousand years. Yet, paradoxically, it has not developed a single institution for the training of high-level manpower for the preservation, conservation, study and publication of this heritage.
The use of writing in Ethiopia goes back well before the New Era. Much of the written heritage that we have from antiquity is in the form of inscriptions primarily on stone. In the 5th century, however, a large-scale translation of Christian holy books started, which led to the production of manuscripts. The country is a proud owner of some precious manuscripts from ancient times that have survived the ravages of time. Manuscript production saw a high period of productivity between the 14th and the 15th centuries. Original works were written on religious, historical and philosophical themes. Large-scale translation into Ge’ez continued through the centuries from Hebrew, Greek, Coptic and Arabic. In addition to the manuscripts in Geez there is a great deal of treasure produced in Arabic and ajemi (Local languages written Arabic script).
This wealth has been subjected to rigorous study by scholars, of which philologists and historians are the dominant group, since the middle of the 19th century, when the philological study of Ethiopian manuscripts was fully launched in Europe. The result is the translation, annotation and publication of a good proportion of these works. Nevertheless, this scholarship has always been foreign-based and Ethiopia, ironically, has been the least beneficiary of this knowledge.
Over the last many years, there has been an acute need for Ethiopian philologists in Addis Ababa University as well as in the country at large. The university has not been able to make use of the services of European Ethiopicist philologists because of the excessively high pay they demand. The Department of Linguistics at AAU took the initiative and launched the program in Ethiopian Philology in the year 2005 (1997 E.C). Following this historic event, the Philology Program has been established as an independent unit since July 2010 in line with the new restructuring of programs at Addis Ababa University.