Only a very small number of Africa’s some 2,000 languages are Semitic; and only a very few of these are spoken by sizeable populations and have governmental status. One of these is Tigrinya, the working and (de facto) official language of (Christian) Eritrea (alongside Arabic for Moslem Eritrea), Africa’s newest and smallest state (1993).
Tigrinya is spoken today (still) largely in the area covered by the ancient Abyssinian Kingdom of Aksum. Thus, it is the direct heir, at least geographically, to Ge’ez (Classical Ethiopic). Indeed, Tigrinya speakers call their language habesha (Abyssinian) without further elaboration. Tigrinya is (mostly) the language of the large, compact and rather densely populated Christian agricultural and urban region of highlands Eritrea and the adjoining North Ethiopian Plateau areas. Tigrinya is spoken by more than 5 million people: 1 million-plus in Eritrea, making up approximately half the entire population; the rest in Ethiopia, where they make up approximately 15% of the population. (Possibly) because (generally) spoken as noted in the hereditary ancestral home, Tigrinya has not been too heavily ‘Africanized’ (most specifically Cushiticized, especially by Agaw). Thus, its phonology and morphology are still, on the whole, quite close to Ge’ez and thus still quite Semitic in character. (Indeed, even the Semitic ‘gutturals’ have been preserved in Tigrinya). Its lexicon also is still very heavily Semitic. Thus, it is rather easy (even) for the Orthodox Semitist (who usually concentrates his or her attention much more on Ancient and not on Modern Semitic) to recognize Tigrinya as (still) Semitic (albeit, perhaps, with the proviso: African-Semitic). The most striking and obtrusive non-Semitic feature of Tigrinya, to be sure, is in its syntax, where all the cherished notions of Semitic VSO/SVO word order have been abandoned. Indeed, Tigrinya is of the rigid SOV type languages, where all determining elements (e.g. adjectives, relatives, subordinate clauses, etc.) precede determined ones. This feature alone gives Tigrinya a strange and alien appearance to the Orthodox Semitist (but this is true for the syntax of all the African-Semitic tongues of Abyssinia).
-JACK FELLMAN, “LINES ON AN AFRICAN-SEMITIC LANGUAGE: THE CASE OF TIGRINYA”