Somali language

From Academic Kids

Somali (af Soomaali)
Spoken in: Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya
Region: East Africa
Total speakers: 15-25 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Afro-Asiatic


Official status
Official language of: Somalia
Regulated by: --
Language codes
ISO 639-1so
ISO 639-2som
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Somali language is a member of the Cushitic languages. It is spoken mostly in Somalia and adjacent parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, but speakers are found all over the world because of the civil war. The exact number of speakers is unknown because of the war and migration but is estimated to have 15 to 25 million speakers



Somali is an Afro-Asiatic language, of the Cushitic branch. It is most closely related to the Afar language and Oromo language. It is distantly related to the Arabic language and other Semitic languages. Somali has been heavily influenced by Arabic, as a large number of words have been borrowed from Arabic since the arrival of Islam. It has also borrowed words from English and Italian from colonial times.

Geographic distribution

It is spoken mostly in Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, and Djibouti, but speakers are found all over the world because of the Somali civil war. It has between 15 to 25 million speakers.

Somali is also spoken by Somali communities all over the world, including, but not limited to, the Middle East, Europe, North America and Australia.

Official status

Somali is an official language in Somalia. While not official, Somali is also important in Djibouti, Ethiopia , and Kenya.


Of the Somali dialects, the most widely used is Common Somali, a term applied to several sub-dialects, the speakers of which can understand each other easily. Common Somali is spoken in most of Somalia, and in adjacent territories (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti), and is used by broadcasting stations in Somalia and in Somali-language broadcasts originating outside the country.

Coastal Somali is spoken on the Banaadir Coast (from Cadale to south of Baraawe) and its immediate hinterland. Central Somali is spoken in the interriverine area, chiefly by members of the Rahanwayn clan-family. Speakers of Common and Coastal Somali can understand each other after a few weeks of close contact, speakers of Common and Central Somali only after a few months.


The grammatical categories of Somali are:

  • Noun
  • Pronoun
  • Verb
  • Adjective
  • Preposition
  • Determiner
  • Focus word
  • Classifier
  • Conjunction

Somali has some grammatical categories which are not found in many other languages, for example the focus word or the focalization phenomenon which concerns those elements in the formation of the sentence which indicate where the intention or the interest or the focus is located in the phrase.

The words baa, ayaa, and waxaa put the focus on nouns and noun phrases.


  1. John baa baxay - John Focus (baa) went out
  2. John ayaa baxay - John Focus (ayaa) went out
  3. Waxaa baxay John - Focus (waxaa) went out John

Thus, the words baa, ayaa, and waxaa unconsciously raise the question of who went out? Therefore the noun.

Somali also has the word waa which puts the focus on verbs and verb phrases.


John waa baxay John Focus (waa) went out

Waa is different from other previous one we have just seen, because it raises the question of what did John do? Therefore the verb.

Writing system

It had no written alphabet as late as 1972 (apart from occasional proposals, such as Osmanya), but the government changed this, for a literacy program and introduced the Latin alphabet. This sets it apart from the languages near it, which either use the Amharic or the Arabic alphabet.

Before the colonial period, educated Somalis and religious fraternities used the Arabic language. It is also evidenced from material discovered in 1940, mainly ancient letters and tomb inscriptions, that the Somali language was written with the Arabic alphabet, just like the Urdu and Persian languages. But it was not certainly "codified" and questions remains about how its use was widespread. Further investigation is required.

The Somali latin alphabet is:

B, T, J, X, KH, D, R, S, SH, DH, C, G, F, Q, K, L, M, N, W, H, Y. (To be noted the absence of consonants P, V, Z for obvious reasons.)

Also, it has short vowels A, E, I, O, U, and long vowels AA, EE, II, OO, UU.

The consonants C, DH, KH, Q and X have totally different sounds from the classic Latin one. Therefore it is not a direct interpretation of the Latin alphabet, as is common in its use.


  • Saeed, John Ibrahim. Somali Reference Grammar. Springfield, VA: Dunwoody Press, 1993. (ISBN 0931745977)
  • Saeed, John Ibrahim. Somali. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, B.V., 1999.

External links


de:Somali (Sprache) fr:Somali nl:Somalisch ja:ソマリ語 fi:somalin kieli


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