Mai-Mai commonly spelled Maay Maay (also known as Af-Maay, Af-Maymay, or simply Maay. The Mai-Mai spelling is rarely used but it is most often spoken.) Mai-Mai is part of the Somali language of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. It is mainly spoken in Somalia and adjacent parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. In Somalia, it is widely spoken in South West state, Jubaland state and Banadir. Scholars debate whether Af-Maay is a Somali language on its own, or is one of the two main dialects that form the Somali language.


Somali linguistic varieties are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benadir, and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali.[3]

Maay is principally spoken by the Digil and Mirifle (Rahanweyn) clans in the southern regions of Somalia, particularly in South West.[3] Its speech area extends from the southwestern border with Ethiopia to a region close to the coastal strip between Mogadishu and Kismayo, including the city of Baidoa.[4] Maay is not mutually comprehensible with Northern Somali or Benadir, and it differs considerably in sentence structure and phonology.[5] It is also not generally used in education or media. However, Maay speakers often use Standard Somali as a lingua franca.[4] It is learned via mass communications, internal migration, and urbanisation.[5]

Although past scholars have maintained the assumption that Maay is not mutually comprehensible with Northern Somali it was done so without it being tested for. A more recent study by Deqa Hassan tested the mutual intelligiblility between Af-Maay and Af-Maxaa speakers (Northern Somali).

The study found that Af-Maay is partially mutually intelligible to Af-Maxaa (Northern Speakers) and that intelligbility increases with increased understanding of Standard Somali. Which implies understanding of standard Somali (Northern Somali) increases the chance of understanding Af-Maay. This accounts for the most significant linguistic factor that ties both language variations together. Therefore Af-Maay is categorized as a Type 5 dialect for the overlapping common cultural history it shares with Af Maxaa speakers which explains it's somewhat mutual intelligiblility. [6]




Maay Maay exhibits significant amounts of epenthesis, inserting central or high-central vowels to break up consonant clusters. Vowel length is contrastive; minimal pairs such as bur 'flour' and buur 'mountain' are attested.


Maay Maay is fairly agglutinative. It has complex verb forms, inflecting at least for tense/aspect and person/number of both subject and object. There is also a prefix indicating negation. In addition, verbs exhibit derivational morphology, including a causative and an applicative. Nominal morphology includes a definiteness suffix, whose form depends on the gender of the head noun, and possessive suffixes.


Maay Maay exhibits SVO and SOV word orders, apparently in fairly free variation. When the object is postverbal, the prefix maay appears on the verb. Within the noun phrase, the head noun is generally initial. Possessors, adjectives and some strong quantifiers follow the head noun. Numerals and the indefinite quantifier precede the head noun.


  1. ^ Mai-Mai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Maay". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.