What’s the difference between Ahun and Now?: English v. Amharic in the home

Growing up in an Ethiopian American home, there is a lot of language mixing.  Your sentence will be structured in the most awkward way, mixing English and Amharic in what would seem to be an inappropriate manner but sounds completely normal to the Ethiopian American ear.  Much like what is often referred to as “spanglish”.

My father and I were talking one day about going somewhere (the subject isn’t really the important part of this story).  He said OK “ahun inehed”.  I said “OK” and walked away to do something else.  Then I realized what time it was and came rushing downstairs and said “Dad, if you wanna go let’s go now.”  He paused, looked at me and said, “didn’t I just say ahun inehed?  what’s the difference between ahun and now?” I paused, and realized….there is no difference.  I gave a smart response and said “well, one is English the other is Amharic.”  There was no difference, but something about saying NOW triggered something in the forefront of my brain to think more immediate as opposed to ahun.  Yes I speak Amharic fluently and have a fairly good grasp of the language, but I still have a greater tendency to speak in English more than in Amharic.  Its just the way of the Ethiopian American.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel as though many people can relate to what I’m saying.  Because we spend so much time assimilating to both cultures, and live a sort of dual life some people don’t understand how we can’t easily feel comfortable in both worlds.  The reality is a lot of times neither language or culture ever feels fully comfortable.  We, Ethiopian Americans, need that ability to tether between both cultures and languages at our leisure.  The sentiment that cannot be expressed in one language, can surely be expressed in the other.  For example, when I get upset I have a greater tendency to speak in Amharic.  Certain words in Amharic have a stronger emotional connotation than its equivalent in English.  Where as when I try to express myself on an intellectual level, I tend to speak in English simply because all of my formal education has been in English.

Essentially, whatever language I choose to use I find that I can easily make my point using both languages in combination.  So really what’s the difference? There is none in my world.  It all comes out in one stream of consciousness, and most of the time those around me understand exactly what I’m saying. Sometimes I don’t even realize if I’m speaking one language or the other.  In my home, there is no difference between “ahun” and “now.”


2 thoughts on “What’s the difference between Ahun and Now?: English v. Amharic in the home

  1. i like your blog but you should add more photos,im more worried for my cousins in Belgium,born and raised there!! cant even say “deghna nesh,ene deghna negn!’ a simple greeting.you should advise more on how you realy captured amharic.

    1. I wish I myself knew the ansewr of how I really learned and maintained my ability to speak amharic. It really was the effort of my parents to maintain amharic language in our house. Additionally it was about the fact that they made me feel comfortable to pseak in whichever language I felt I could best express myself, either amharic or enlish was ok with them. Therefore I became comfrotable with both as well.

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