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Tigre (Ge'ez ትግረ tigre or ትግሬ tigrē; sometimes written as Tigré, also known as Xasa in Sudan; Arabic الخاصية ḫāṣiyah) is an 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 Ethiopian and 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 Sudan. In Eritrea, they reside in the central and northern plateau and the Red Sea shores north of Zula.

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.

ቲግሬ Tigre, ኻሳ Xasa
Native to Eritrea, Sudan
Native speakers 1.05 million in Eritrea  (2006)[1]
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-2 tig
ISO 639-3 tig
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

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

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless (p) t č [tʃ] k ʔ
voiced b d ǧ [dʒ] ɡ
ejective (pʼ) č' [tʃʼ]
Fricative voiceless f s š [ʃ] (x) ħ h
voiced z ž [ʒ] ʕ
Approximant l y [j] w
Rhotic r
Front Central Back
Close i ə [ɨ] u
Mid e o
Open a, ā [aː]

Consonant length

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, /w/, and /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.

Remarks on Tigrè Grammar

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 - she-ass;
  • masculine: cöleb - dog; feminine: cölbet - bitch;
  • masculine: cadma - serving man; cadmaiet - serving-woman;
  • masculine: mamba - lord, master; mambait - lady, mistress.

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 separate words:

  • 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) 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 - I'm not;
  • 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. ihallecum;
  • entim hallechen tu - you (pl. fem.) are; neg. ihallecum;
  • 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:

  • - you (sing. fem.), etc.
  • ...bu - he...
  • - she...
  • - we...
  • - you (pl. masc.)...
  • - you (pl.fem.) ...
  • - 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 ...

Writing System

Traditionally, the Arabic script was used to write Tigré, at least among Muslims. Ge'ez script has been used since the 1902 translation of the New Testament by Tewolde-Medhin Gebre-Medhin, Dawit Amanuel, and Swedish missionaries. Many Muslim Tigrés still use the Arabic alphabet.[citation needed]

Ge'ez script

See also: 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
  ä u i a e ə o wi wa we
  ä u i a e ə o wi wa we