Prof. Amsalu Aklilu passes away
Professor Amsalu Aklilu, an academic, author, expert on Ethiopian languages, and lexicographer, who co-authored the standard bilingual English-Amharic Dictionary, died on Thursday. He was 83.
The late professor had always been fascinated by word origins, phonetic change, and grammatical development. He took a keen interest in particular aspects of the vocabulary of Amharic, and wrote several articles about the language of early modern Amharic literary documents.”English Amharic Dictionary,” originally published in 1973, was compiled by him, G.P Mosback and other assistants over several years. The volume contains about 10,000 English words, including scientific terminology. The approximate pronunciation is also given in Amharic script. It was published several times and became an indispensable reference for generation of Ethiopian high school and university students.
Amsalu was born in Desse in 1930 and did his primary and secondary education there. His studies covered theology and the full range of Semitic languages – Amharic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Geez (an ancient Semitic language which is no longer spoken but continues in use as a liturgical language). He first studied theology at Theological School in Addis Ababa and he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Coptic Theological College in Cairo in 1957. After earning his PHD in Semitic philology, University of Tubingen, Germany, 1962, he taught Amharic, Geez, Arabic and survey of Ethiopia literature, and lexicography at the Haile Sellassie I University for decades.
The linguist, a spare man with a professional air and precise speaking style, played an active role in many academic bodies, serving as chairman of the department of Ethiopian languages and literature (1968-71 and 1976-78), dean of the Institute of Language Studies,(1983-85) and director of the Addis Ababa University Press (1995-1996). From 1970-1975 he sat on the editorial board of the Journal of Ethiopian Studies.
In his early career, he edited the Amharic section of the Addis Ababa University Journal “Dialogue” from 1968-1970. He devoted himself to the theoretical and practical work of translation and lexicography for many years, and in 1980 he founded the academy of Ethiopian Languages and became its first general secretary.He also instituted increased coverage of scientific and technical terms, as well as slang and colloquialisms.
In 1997, Amsalu moved to Hamburg, Germany where he became lecturer of Amharic and Geez for the department of African and Ethiopian Studies. There his duties included teaching Amharic and Geez to an influx of foreign students and introducing his county’s history and culture. There he started preparing Amharic German dictionary, an undertaking of nearly 15 years, which was almost completed but never published. He served there till 2002.
Prof. Amsalu went on to write more than 30 scientific papers and made contributions to broader areas of Semitic philology, science technology terms translation project. Among his more popular publications were two essays entitled the development of Amharic during Emperor Tewdros’s reign (1990) and the influence of Arabic on Wollo Amharic (1991), a perceptive study based on the language and province he was familiar with.
A deep connection with his wife, Kelemwork, with whom he has lived more than 50 years, was one of the reasons Amsalu has had such a long and fulfilling life; the other was his passion for his work,” professor Getachew Haile, a contemporary and a close friend said. His wife survives him with two daughters and two sons.