Somali language

Somali language

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The Somali language is a member of the East Cushitic
East Cushitic languages
The Lowland East Cushitic languages comprise two dozen languages of the Cushitic family within Afro-Asiatic. They are spoken mainly in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and by Cushitic groups in northern Kenya....

 branch of the Afro-Asiatic
Afro-Asiatic languages
The Afroasiatic languages , also known as Hamito-Semitic, constitute one of the world's largest language families, with about 375 living languages...

 language family. Its nearest relatives are Afar
Afar language
Afar is a Lowland East Cushitic language spoken in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. It is believed to have 1.5 million speakers, the Afar. The basic word order in Afar, like in other East Cushitic languages, is subject–object–verb. Its speakers have a literacy rate of between one and three per cent...

 and Oromo
Oromo language
Oromo, also known as Afaan Oromo, Oromiffa, Afan Boran, Afan Orma, and sometimes in other languages by variant spellings of these names , is an Afro-Asiatic language, and the most widely spoken of the Cushitic family. Forms of Oromo are spoken as a first language by more than 25 million Oromo and...

. Somali is the best documented of the Cushitic languages
Cushitic languages
The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family spoken in the Horn of Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. They are named after the Biblical character Cush, who was identified as an ancestor of the speakers of these specific languages as early as AD 947...

, with academic studies beginning before 1900.

Number of speakers


The exact number of speakers of Somali is unknown. One source estimates that there are 7.78 million speakers of Somali in Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 itself and 12.65 million speakers globally. A population estimate made by the Dutch Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht puts the Somali population somewhere between 10 and 15 million. Combined with a large international expatriate community, it is difficult to get a specific number of Somali speakers, but somewhere between 10 and 16 million worldwide seems a reasonable estimate. According to Gordon (2005), approximately 13 million people speak Somali, but upwards of 25 million individuals are commonly estimated to speak the language.http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=202&menu=004

Geographic distribution


The Somali language is spoken by ethnic Somalis
Somali people
Somalis are an ethnic group located in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula. The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family...

 in Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

, Djibouti
Djibouti
Djibouti , officially the Republic of Djibouti , is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east...

, Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

, Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

 and Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

, and by the Somali diaspora
Somali diaspora
The Somali diaspora refers to expatriate Somalis who reside in areas of the world that have traditionally not been inhabited by their ethnic group...

.

Official status



Somali has been the national language of Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 since 1972, gaining official status with standardization (Standard Somali) and the adoption of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, developed under orders of then president Siad Barre
Siad Barre
Mohamed Siad Barre was the military dictator and President of the Somali Democratic Republic from 1969 to 1991. During his rule, he styled himself as Jaalle Siyaad ....

. Shire Jama Ahmed
Shire Jama Ahmed
Shire Jama Ahmed was a Somali linguist who is credited with having devised a unique Latin script for transcribing the Somali language. Shire Jama's winning Somali Orthoraphy was chosen from eighteen competing new orthographies in 1972 by the Language Committee and the ruling party...

's script became The Official Somali Language Script. For nine years, The Somali Language Committee sifted through 18 competing scripts. The Committee was first commissioned in 1961 by Aden Abdulle Osman Daar, Somalia's first post-colonial president.

After the collapse of the central Somali government in the Somali civil war
Somali Civil War
The Somali Civil War is an ongoing civil war taking place in Somalia. The conflict, which began in 1991, has caused destabilisation throughout the country, with the current phase of the conflict seeing the Somali government losing substantial control of the state to rebel forces...

 in the 1990s, Somali has remained an official language or de facto national language of the various regional governments such as Somaliland
Somaliland
Somaliland is an unrecognised self-declared sovereign state that is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia. The government of Somaliland regards itself as the successor state to the British Somaliland protectorate, which was independent for a few days in 1960 as the State of...

 and Puntland
Puntland
Puntland , officially the Puntland State of Somalia , is a region in northeastern Somalia, centered on Garowe in the Nugaal province. Its leaders declared the territory an autonomous state in 1998....

.

Dialects



Somali dialects are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benaadir and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali. Benaadir (also known as Coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir
Benadir
Benadir is a coastal region of Somalia. It covers most of the Indian Ocean coast of the country, from the Gulf of Aden to the Juba River, containing the capital of Mogadishu. The name comes from Persian bandar, which means port , a fact that reflects the region's importance to Persian and Arab...

 coast from Cadaley
Cadaley
Adale is a city in the southern Shabeellaha Hoose administrative region of Somalia. It sits at a latitude of 2° 45' 0N and a longitude of 46° 19' 0E. The town is the center of the Adale District.-References:*...

 to south of Marka
Marka
Marka may refer to:* Marka people, a people of Mali in Western Africa** Marka language, the language of the Marka people* Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark , the currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina...

, including Mogadishu
Mogadishu
Mogadishu , popularly known as Xamar, is the largest city in Somalia and the nation's capital. Located in the coastal Benadir region on the Indian Ocean, the city has served as an important port for centuries....

, and in the immediate hinterland. The coastal dialects have additional phonemes which do not exist in Standard Somali.

The Digil and Mirifle clans (sometimes called Rahanweyn
Rahanweyn
The Rahanweyn is a Somali clan, composed of two major sub-clans, the Digil and the Mirifle. It makes up about 17% of the population of Somalia, and is one of the five major Somali clans residing in the Horn of Africa.-Overview:The Digil sub-clan mainly consists of farmers and coastal people, while...

) live in the southern areas of Somalia. Recent research (Diriye Abdullahi, 2000) has shown that, although previously classified with Somali, their languages and dialects are incomprehensible to many Somali speakers. The most important language of the Digil and Mirifle is Maay. Other languages in this category are Jiido, Dabare, Garre, and Central Tunni. Of all these, Jiido is the most incomprehensible to Somali speakers. One important aspect in which the languages of the Digil and Mirifle differ from Somali is the lack of pharyngeal sounds. The retroflex /ɖ/
Voiced retroflex plosive
The voiced retroflex plosive is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is , and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is d`. The IPA symbol is a lowercase letter d with a rightward-pointing tail protruding...

 is also replaced by /r/ in some positions.

Sounds and phonology


Somali has 22 consonant phoneme
Phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s, with at least one in every place of articulation described on the IPA chart, except epiglottal. It has five basic vowel sounds, each having a front and back variation, as well as long or short versions, giving distinct 20 pure vowel sounds. It also exhibits three tones: high, low and falling.

Grammar


Somali is an agglutinative language, using a number of markers for case, gender and number. Characteristic differences between Somali and most Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 include multiple forms of most personal pronouns, the use of particles to signify the focus of a sentence, extensive use of tone to denote differences in case and number, and gender polarity (the gender of many words is different in the singular and plural forms).

Vocabulary


Somali contains a number of loan words from Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, and the former colonial languages English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 and Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

. Somalis are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims
Sunni Islam
Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims are referred to in Arabic as ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah wa āl-Ǧamāʿah or ʾAhl ūs-Sunnah for short; in English, they are known as Sunni Muslims, Sunnis or Sunnites....

 and the language has taken much religious terminology from Arabic. From the pastoral epoch there are Arabic loan words for objects of settled living such as the Somali albaabka (the door), from the Arabic الباب al baab, which displays the same inclusion of the definite article as do many European words derived from Arabic.

A large number of neologisms were created after Somali became the official language to express concepts used in government and education.

Overview




An ancient script seems to have been used to write Somali. Since then a number of writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

s have been used for transcribing the language. Of these, the Somali Latin alphabet
Somali alphabet
The Somali Latin alphabet has been the official writing script in Somalia since 1972. It was developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed specifically for transcribing the Somali language, and is based on the Latin script. The Somali Latin alphabet uses all letters of the English Latin...

 is the most widely-used, and has been the official writing script in Somalia since the government of former President of Somalia Mohamed Siad Barre formally introduced it in October 1972. The script was developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed
Shire Jama Ahmed
Shire Jama Ahmed was a Somali linguist who is credited with having devised a unique Latin script for transcribing the Somali language. Shire Jama's winning Somali Orthoraphy was chosen from eighteen competing new orthographies in 1972 by the Language Committee and the ruling party...

 specifically for the Somali language, and uses all letters of the English Latin alphabet except p, v and z. This alphabet has 21 consonants and 5 vowels. There are no diacritics
Diacritics
diacritics is a quarterly academic journal established in 1971 at Cornell University and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Articles serve to review recent literature in the field of literary criticism, and have covered topics in gender studies, political theory, psychoanalysis, queer...

 or other special characters except the use of the apostrophe for the glottal stop
Glottal stop
The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

, which is not word-initial. There are three consonant digraphs
Digraph (orthography)
A digraph or digram is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined...

: DH, KH and SH. Tone is not marked; front and back vowels are not distinguished. Capital letters are used at the beginning of a sentence and for proper names.

Starting from 1960, debate about which writing system to use for transcribing the Somali language dragged on for nine years. No fewer than a dozen linguists were tasked with developing a workable script. Eventually, Shire Jama Ahmed's refined Somali Latin script was adopted, an alphabet which he used to publish pamphlets and small Af Soomaali drillbooks in his own printing press
Printing press
A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium , thereby transferring the ink...

. Ahmed argued that even though most people were in favor of using the Arabic script, it was more practical to use Latin primarily due to its simplicity, the fact that it lent itself well to writing Somali since it could cope with all of the sounds in the language, and the already widespread existence of machines and typewriters designed for its use.

Besides Ahmed's Latin script, other orthographies that have been used for centuries for writing Somali include the long-established Arabic script
Arabic alphabet
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters. Because letters usually stand for consonants, it is classified as an abjad.-Consonants:The Arabic alphabet has...

 and Wadaad's writing
Wadaad's writing
Wadaad's writing is the Somali language written with the Arabic script. Originally, it referred to "an ungrammatical Arabic containing some Somali words," as used by Somali religious men to write qasidas, and by merchants for business, letter writing, and to draft petitions...

. Indigenous writing systems developed in the twentieth century include the Osmanya, Borama
Borama script
The Borama script is a writing script for the Somali language. It was devised around 1933 by Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur of the Gadabuursi clan.-History:...

 and Kaddare
Kaddare script
The Kaddare script is a writing script created to transcribe the Somali language.-History:The orthography was invented in 1952 by Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare of the Abgaal Hawiye clan....

 scripts, which were invented by Osman Yusuf Kenadid
Osman Yusuf Kenadid
-Biography:In the early 1920s, in response to a national campaign to settle on a standard orthography for the Somali language , Kenadid, a leader in the Majeerteen Sultanate of Hobyo in Somalia and nephew of Sultan Yusuf Ali Kenadid, devised a phonetically sophisticated alphabet called Osmanya for...

, Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur
Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur
Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur was a Somali religious leader and the inventor of the Borama script for the Somali language.-Biography:Nuur was born in Borama, Somalia to a Gadabuursi Dir family...

 and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare
Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare
-Biography:Kaddare was born near Mogadishu in the Banaadir region of Somalia to an Abgaal Hawiye family. In 1953, he created the Kaddare script, an orthography named after him that was used to transcribe the Somali language.-See also:* Osmanya script...

, respectively.

Modern history


Before the arrival of the Italians and British, educated Somalis and religious fraternities either wrote in Arabic or used an ad hoc transliteration of Somali into Arabic script referred to as Wadaad's writing
Wadaad's writing
Wadaad's writing is the Somali language written with the Arabic script. Originally, it referred to "an ungrammatical Arabic containing some Somali words," as used by Somali religious men to write qasidas, and by merchants for business, letter writing, and to draft petitions...

. Most of the renowned Somali rebel leader Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan
Mohammed Abdullah Hassan
Sayyīd Muhammad `Abd Allāh al-Hasan was a Somali religious and patriotic leader...

's missives, including a letter he wrote to a scholar who betrayed him to the colonial powers, were in Arabic. Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

ic schools (madrassas) were ubiquitous throughout Somalia, so children were exposed to the Arabic alphabet from a very young age. Material first discovered in 1940, mainly ancient letters and tomb inscriptions, demonstrates that the Somali language, like the Urdu and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 languages, had long been written with the Arabic alphabet. However, this was likely not codified, and questions remain about the extent of its use.

A number of attempts had been made from the 1920s onwards to standardize the language using a number of different alphabets.
Pamphlets explaining the new standardization were released to the public in a soccer stadium in Mogadishu
Mogadishu
Mogadishu , popularly known as Xamar, is the largest city in Somalia and the nation's capital. Located in the coastal Benadir region on the Indian Ocean, the city has served as an important port for centuries....

on October 10, 1972.

The first comprehensive dictionaries were produced in 1976, the Qaamuus kooban ee af Soomaali ah and Qaamuuska Af-Soomaaliga. On the orders of the Barre regime, civil servants were required to pass language proficiency exams, and a vast literacy campaign was launched wherein students were sent to rural areas to teach others the new script. By 1978, the majority of Somalis were reportedly literate. This would go down historically as one the fastest developments of mass literacy anywhere in the world.

Further reading

  1. L.E. Armstrong. 1964. "The phonetic structure of Somali," Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen Berlin 37/3:116-161.
  2. C.R.V. Bell. 1953. The Somali Language. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
  3. Jörg Berchem. 1991. Referenzgrammatik des Somali. Köln: Omimee.
  4. G.R. Cardona. 1981. "Profilo fonologico del somalo," Fonologia e lessico. Ed. G.R. Cardona & F. Agostini. Rome: Dipartimento per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo; Comitato Tecnico Linguistico per l'Università Nazionale Somala, Ministero degli Affari Esteri. Volume 1, pages 3–26.
  5. Elena Z. Dobnova. 1990. Sovremennyj somalijskij jazyk. Moskva: Nauka.
  6. Annarita Puglielli. 1997. "Somali Phonology," Phonologies of Asia and Africa, Volume 1. Ed. Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. Pages 521-535.

External links