An allAfrica.com article by Ayenew Haileselassie* explains how the syllabary used in Ethiopia, with its more than 300 characters, has been adapted for use on mobile phones:

Ge’ez evokes the ancient and the religious, the chanting of priests in long robes; parchment manuscripts and gold and silver crosses of the old days. The Ge’ez alphabet, also known as the Ethiopic writing system, has always been a source of pride for Ethiopians whose country happens to be the only African country with its own alphabet. Nonetheless it has been regarded as a drawback to the assimilation of information and communication technology with its ungainly 300 plus characters.
From the old typewriter to the new computer and the newer mobile phones, everything has worked with the 26 letters of the English alphabet, consisting of 10 times less characters than its Ge’ez counterpart.
Nothing is a debacle to imaginative souls. Ethiopia will not have to discard its literary tradition to embrace modern information technology.
Young Ethiopian researchers at the Addis Abeba University are making sure the numerous characters of the Ethiopic writing system are only a challenge to be overcome, not a hindrance to its slow but sure integration into the information era. Actually, they stated boldly in their research that the “Ethiopic writing system has now entered the wireless revolution.”…

Thanks to John Hardy of Laputan Logic for the link.)
*The name Haile Selassie, incidentally, means ‘Holy Trinity’ or ‘Power of Trinity’ in Amharic


  1. The original paper is here:
    Some of this looks similar to Japanese input methods.

  2. The nice thing about the Japanese input methods for phones is the predictive aspect. If I enter the syllable “na” I have the option of entering a list of common words, beginning with “nani” (“what”). It’s not perfect: not all words I’d like to use are available, and my phone doesn’t seem to adapt, unlike IME, to words I use more commonly, but I envy it mightily when I SMS in English. If I type “wh”, an option to jump straight to “what” or “why” would save a little wear on my thumb.

  3. Kristina, you might want to check whether your phone has T9 predictive technology. My Nokia does and, once I learned how to use it, it’s fast and easy to SMS. To type “thumb”, I press “tgtma” and T9 displays “thumb”. It doesn’t provide a list, like the IME, but you can cycle through alternatives by pressing the “*” key. The only limitation is that you have to key in all the letters for each word.
    T9 is explained here.

  4. Thanks, and I’ll check that out when I return to the US (having grown a bit addicted to SMS, like everyone else in Japan). Alas, however, my au/KDDI phone does not seem to include that option for romaji.
    But it’s nice to see that I’ll still have the possibility of predictivity, even of a different sort, when I do return.

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