Catholic missionaries and lexicography among the Sidaama, Ethiopia: The Sidamo-English dictionary

  • Erik Egeland Volda University College


This article focuses on mission linguistic practices conducted by Catholic missionaries among the Sidaama, Ethiopia. The paper especially addresses mission linguistic practices found in the bilingual Sidamo-English dictionary published in 1983 (Gasparini 1983). First, the paper will provide a short introduction to mission linguistics. Next, it will provide information about the historical context of the Catholic mission among the Sidaama. The main content covers the period from 1964 to 1983. In 1964, Catholic missionaries from the Comboni order started mission work among the Sidaama. The article will analyse entries in the dictionary and discuss examples of linguistic practices applied when translating religious concepts from the Sidaama religious worldview such as the reuse of concepts, extension of meaning, and loan words. The paper will discuss how the composition of the dictionary had both practical and ideological concerns.  It will discuss examples concerning the interpretation of central concepts such as the concept of God, attributes of God, and spiritual being (s). A closer analysis of the translation of central Sidaama religious concepts shows how the translation of Sidaama beliefs and practices were interpreted and evaluated within a Christian framework.


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Author Biography

Erik Egeland, Volda University College

Erik Egeland is an Associate Professor at the Department of Religious studies, Volda University College, Norway. Teaching experience in social anthropology and in religious studies. Research interest include: religious change, cultural contact and dynamics, anthropology of religion, and the history of Christianity in Ethiopia. He received his Ph.D. in History of Religions and World Christianity, Department of Theology, Uppsala University, Sweden. PhD research based on fieldwork in Ethiopia focusing on evangelical-pentecostal movements in Ethiopia. Thesis (2016) titled: Christianity, Generation and Narrative: Religious Conversion and Change in Sidama, Ethiopia, 1974-2012.