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Somali /səˈmɑːli, s-/[5][6] (Latin: Af-Soomaali; Osmanya: 𐒖𐒍 𐒈𐒝𐒑𐒛𐒐𐒘 [æ̀f sɔ̀ːmɑ́ːlì])[7] is an Afroasiatic language belonging to the Cushitic branch. It is spoken as a mother tongue by Somalis in Greater Somalia and the Somali diaspora. Somali is an official language of Somalia and Somaliland ,[8] a national language in Djibouti, and a working language in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and also in North Eastern Kenya. It is used as an adoptive language by a few neighboring ethnic minority groups and individuals. The Somali language is written officially with the Latin alphabet.

Somali is classified within the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family; specifically, as Lowland East Cushitic along with Afar and Saho.[9] Somali is the best-documented Cushitic language,[10] with academic studies of the language dating back to the late 19th century.[11]

Geographic distribution

Somali is spoken by Somalis in Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya, and by the Somali diaspora. It is also spoken as an adoptive language by a few ethnic minority groups and individuals in these areas.

Somali is the second most widely spoken Cushitic language after Oromo.[12]

As of 2016, there were approximately 36.6 million speakers of Somali, spread in Greater Somalia of which around 15 million resided in Somalia.[13] The language is spoken by an estimated 95% of the country's inhabitants,[11] and also by a majority of the population in Djibouti.[10]

Following the start of the Somali Civil War in the early 1990s, the Somali-speaking diaspora increased in size, with newer Somali speech communities forming in parts of the Middle East, North America and Europe.[13]

Official status

Morphology

Somali is an agglutinative language, and also shows properties of inflection. Affixes mark many grammatical meanings, including aspect, tense and case.[43]

Somali has an old prefixal verbal inflection restricted to four common verbs, with all other verbs undergoing inflection by more obvious suffixation. This general pattern is similar to the stem alternation that typifies Cairene Arabic.[44]

Changes in pitch are used for grammatical rather than lexical purposes.[45] This includes distinctions of gender, number and case.[45] In some cases, these distinctions are marked by tone alone (e.g. Ínan, "boy"; inán, "girl").[46]

Somali has two sets of pronouns: independent (substantive, emphatic) pronouns and clitic (verbal) pronouns.[47] The independent pronouns behave grammatically as nouns, and normally occur with the suffixed article -ka/-ta (e.g. adiga, "you").[47] This article may be omitted after a conjunction or focus word. For example, adna meaning "and you..." (from adi-na).[47] Clitic pronouns are attached to the verb and do not take nominal morphology.[48] Somali marks clusivity in the first person plural pronouns; this is also found in a number of other East Cushitic languages, such as Rendille and Dhaasanac.[49]

As in various other Afro-Asiatic languages, Somali is characterized by polarity of gender, whereby plural nouns usually take the opposite gender agreement of their singular forms.[50][51] For example, the plural of the masculine noun dibi ("bull") is formed by converting it into feminine dibi.[50] Somali is unusual among the world's languages in that the object is unmarked for case while the subject is marked, though this feature is found in other Cushitic languages such as Oromo.[52]

Syntax

Somali is a subject–object–verb (SOV) language.[13] It is largely head final, with postpositions and with obliques preceding verbs.[53] These are common features of the Cushitic and Semitic Afroasiatic languages spoken in the Horn region (e.g. Amharic).[54] However, Somali noun phrases are head-initial, whereby the noun precedes its modifying adjective.[53][55] This pattern of general head-finality with head-initial noun phrases is also found in other Cushitic languages (e.g. Oromo), but not generally in Ethiopian Semitic languages.[53][56]

Somali uses three focus markers: baa, ayaa and waxa(a), which generally mark new information or contrastive emphasis.[57] Baa and ayaa require the focused element to occur preverbally, while waxa(a) may be used following the verb.[58]

Vocabulary

The language has five basic vowels. Each has a front and back variation as well as long or short versions. This gives a distinct 20 pure vowel sounds. It also exhibits three tones: high, low and falling. Vowels harmonize within a harmonic group, so all vowels within the group must either be front or back. The Somali orthography does not distinguish between the front and back variants of vowels, however, as there are few minimal pairs.[39]

The syllable structure of Somali is (C)V(C). Root morphemes usually have a mono- or di-syllabic structure.

Pitch is phonemic in Somali, but it is debated whether Somali is a pitch accent or tonal language.[40] Andrzejewski (1954) posits that Somali is a tonal language,[41] whereas Banti (1988) suggests that it is a pitch accent language.[42]

Somali is an agglutinative language, and also shows properties of inflection. Affixes mark many grammatical meanings, including aspect, tense and case.[43]

Somali has an old prefixal verbal inflection restricted to four common verbs, with all other verbs undergoing inflection by more obvious suffixation. This general pattern is similar to the stem alternation that typifies Cairene Arabic.[44]

Changes in pitch are used for grammatical rather than lexical purposes.[45] This includes distinctions of gender, number and case.[45] In some cases, these distinctions are marked by tone alone (e.g. Ínan, "boy"; inán, "girl").[46]

Somali has two sets of pronouns: independent (substantive, emphatic) pronouns and clitic (verbal) pronouns.[47] The independent pronouns behave grammatically as nouns, and normally occur with the suffixed article -ka/-ta (e.g. adiga, "you").[47] This article may be omitted after a conjunction or focus word. For example, adna meaning "and you..." (from adi-na).[47] Clitic pronouns are attached to the verb and do not take nominal morphology.[48] Somali marks clusivity in the first person plural pronouns; this is also found in a number of other East Cushitic languages, such as Rendille and Dhaasanac.[49]

As in various other Afro-Asiatic languages, Somali is characterized by polarity of gender, whereby plural nouns usua

Somali has an old prefixal verbal inflection restricted to four common verbs, with all other verbs undergoing inflection by more obvious suffixation. This general pattern is similar to the stem alternation that typifies Cairene Arabic.[44]

Changes in pitch are used for grammatical rather than lexical purposes.[45] This includes distinctions of gender, number and case.[45] In some cases, these distinctions are marked by tone alone (e.g. Ínan, "boy"; inán, "girl").[46]

Somali has two sets of pronouns: independent (substantive, emphatic) pronouns and clitic (verbal) pronouns.[47] The independent pronouns behave grammatically as nouns, and normally occur with the suffixed article -ka/-ta (e.g. adiga, "you").[47] This article may be omitted after a conjunction or focus word. For example, adna meaning "and you..." (from adi-na).[47] Clitic pronouns are attached to the verb and do not take nominal morphology.[48] Somali marks clusivity in the first person plural pronouns; this is also found in a number of other East Cushitic languages, such as Rendille and Dhaasanac.[49]

As in various other Afro-Asiatic languages, Somali is characterized by polarity of gender, whereby plural nouns usually take the opposite gender agreement of their singular forms.[50][51] For example, the plural of the masculine noun dibi ("bull") is formed by converting it into feminine dibi.[50] Somali is unusual among the world's languages in that the object is unmarked for case while the subject is marked, though this feature is found in other Cushitic languages such as Oromo.[52]

Somali is a subject–object–verb (SOV) language.[13] It is largely head final, with postpositions and with obliques preceding verbs.[53] These are common features of the Cushitic and Semitic Afroasiatic languages spoken in the Horn region (e.g. Amharic).[54] However, Somali noun phrases are head-initial, whereby the noun precedes its modifying adjective.[53][55] This pattern of general head-finality with head-initial noun phrases is also found in other Cushitic languages (e.g. Oromo), but not generally in Ethiopian Semitic languages.[53][56]

Somali uses three focus markers: baa, ayaa and waxa(a), which generally mark new information or contrastive emphasis.[57]Somali uses three focus markers: baa, ayaa and waxa(a), which generally mark new information or contrastive emphasis.[57] Baa and ayaa require the focused element to occur preverbally, while waxa(a) may be used following the verb.[58]

Somali loanwords can be divided into those derived from other Afroasiatic languages (mainly Arabic), and those of Indo-European extraction (mainly Italian).[59]

Somali's main lexical borrowings come from Arabic, and are estimated to constitute about 20% of the language's vocabulary.[60] This is a legacy of the Somali people's extensive social, cultural, commercial and religious links and contacts with nearby populations in the Arabian peninsula. Arabic loanwords are most commonly used in religious, administrative and education-related speech (e.g. aamiin for "faith in God"), though they are also present in other areas (e.g. kubbad-da, "ball").[59] Soravia (1994) noted a total of 1,436 Arabic loanwords in Agostini a.o. 1985,[61] a prominent 40,000-entry Somali dictionary.[62] Most of the terms consi

Somali's main lexical borrowings come from Arabic, and are estimated to constitute about 20% of the language's vocabulary.[60] This is a legacy of the Somali people's extensive social, cultural, commercial and religious links and contacts with nearby populations in the Arabian peninsula. Arabic loanwords are most commonly used in religious, administrative and education-related speech (e.g. aamiin for "faith in God"), though they are also present in other areas (e.g. kubbad-da, "ball").[59] Soravia (1994) noted a total of 1,436 Arabic loanwords in Agostini a.o. 1985,[61] a prominent 40,000-entry Somali dictionary.[62] Most of the terms consisted of commonly used nouns. These lexical borrowings may have been more extensive in the past since a few words that Zaborski (1967:122) observed in the older literature were absent in Agostini's later work.[61] In addition, the majority of personal names are derived from Arabic.[63]

The Somali language also contains a few Indo-European loanwords that were retained from the colonial period.[15] Most of these lexical borrowings come from English and Italian and are used to describe new objects or modern concepts (e.g. telefishen-ka, "television"; raadia-ha, "radio").[64] There are as well 300 directly Romance loans, such as garawati for "tie" (from the Italian cravatta).

Indeed, the most used loanwords from the Italian are "ciao" as a friendly salute, "dimuqraadi" from Italian "democratico" (democratic), "mikroskoob" from "microscopio (microscope), "Jalaato" from "gelato" (ice cream), "baasto" from "pasta" (pasta), "bataate" from "patate" (potato), "bistoolad" from "pistol" (pistol), "fiyoore" from "fiore" (flower) and "injinyeer" from "ingegnere" (engineer).[65] Somalis call their calendar months as Soon, soonfur, siditaal, carafa....but these changed recently[when?]. Furthermore, all the months in Somali language are now loaned words from the Italian, like "Febraayo" that comes from "febbraio" (February)[citation needed].

Additionally, Somali contains lexical terms from Persian, Urdu and Hindi that were acquired through historical trade with communities in the Near East and South Asia (e.g. khiyaar "cucumber" from Persian: خيارkhiyār).[64] Some of these words were also borrowed indirectly via Arabic.[64][66]

As part of a broader governmental effort to ensure and safeguard the primacy of the Somali language, the past few decades have seen a push in Somalia toward replacement of loanwords in general with their Somali equivalents or neologisms. To this end, the Supreme Revolutionary Council during its tenure officially prohibited the borrowing and use of English and Italian terms.[15]

Archaeological excavations and research in Somalia uncovered ancient inscriptions in a distinct writing system.[67] In an 1878 report to the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, scientist Johann Maria Hildebrandt noted upon visiting the area that "we know from ancient authors that these districts, at present so desert, were formerly populous and civilised[...] I also discovered ancient ruins and rock-inscriptions both in pictures and characters[...] These have hitherto not been deciphered."[68] According to Somalia's Ministry of Information and National Guidance, this script represents the earliest written attestation of Somali.[67]

Besides Ahmed's Latin script, other orthographies that have been used for centuries for writing the Somali language include the long-established Arabic script and Wadaad writing.[69] According to Bogumił Andrzejewski, this usage was limited to Somali clerics and their associates, as sheikhs preferred to write in the liturgical Arabic language. Various such historical manuscripts in Somali nonetheless exist, which mainly consist of Islamic poems (qasidas), recitations and chants.[70] Among these texts are the Somali poems by Sheikh Uways and Sheikh Ismaaciil Faarah. The rest of the existing historical literature in Somali principally consists of translations of documents from Arabic.Arabic script and Wadaad writing.[69] According to Bogumił Andrzejewski, this usage was limited to Somali clerics and their associates, as sheikhs preferred to write in the liturgical Arabic language. Various such historical manuscripts in Somali nonetheless exist, which mainly consist of Islamic poems (qasidas), recitations and chants.[70] Among these texts are the Somali poems by Sheikh Uways and Sheikh Ismaaciil Faarah. The rest of the existing historical literature in Somali principally consists of translations of documents from Arabic.[71]

Since then a number of writing systems have been used for transcribing the Somali language. Of these, the Somali Latin alphabet, officially adopted in 1972, is the most widely used and recognised as official orthography of the state.[72] The script was developed by a number of leading scholars of Somali, including Musa Haji Ismail Galal, B. W. Andrzejewski and Shire Jama Ahmed specifically for transcribing the Somali language, and uses all letters of the English Latin alphabet except p, v and z.[73][74] There are no diacritics or other special characters except the use of the apostrophe for the glottal stop, which does not occur word-initially. There are three consonant digraphs: DH, KH and SH. Tone is not marked, and front and back vowels are not distinguished.

Writing systems developed in the twentieth century include the Osmanya, Borama and Kaddare alphabets, which were invented by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare, respectively.[75]