Tuesday, October 15, 2013

48. Somali

(af Soomaali / اَف صَومالي˜)

Somali is a member of the East Cushtic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It has 10-16 million native speakers and perhaps half a million second language speakers mainly in Somali, where it is an official language, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. There are also significant numbers of Somali speakers in Europe, North America and Yemen.
Somali has been written with a number of different scripts, including an Arabic-based abjad known as Wadaad's writing, a Latin-based alphabet and the Borama, Osmanya and Kaddare alphabets

Wadaad's writing (وَداد)

The Arabic script was first introduced in the 13th century by Sheikh Yusuf al-Kowneyn to aid Koranic teaching. In the 19th century Sheikh Uways al-Barawi improved the writing of Somali with the Arabic script and based it on the Maay dialect of Southern Somalia. A Somali linguists, Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal, radically altered the spelling conventions for Somali written with the Arabic script and introduced a set of new symbols for the vowels in the 1950s.
Wadaad's writing (Arabic script for Somali)

Sample text

Sample text in Somali in the Arabic script

Borama/Gadabuursi alphabet

In 1933 Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur invented another script for Somali known as Borama or Gadabuursi which was only used by the Sheikh's small circle of associates in Borama.
Borama/Gadabuursi alphabet

Sample text

Sample text in the Borama alphabet


My beloved brother Huseen, Peace.
I am well, the reer is at Đoobo.
The big burden camel has been eaten by a lion. 'Ali has come.
The goods have been received by us. Send us (some) ghee.
Out mother has come. Your brother Guuleed has gone to Hargeisa.

Nuur Bile,

Somali/Osmanya alphabet

The Osmanya alphabet was created in between 1920 and 1922 by Cismaan Yuusuf Keenadiid, brother of the Sultan of Obbia. In Somali it is known as far soomaali (Somali writing) or cismaanya. It replaced an attempt by Sheikh Uweys to devise an Arabic-based alphabet for Somali, and has in turn been replaced by the Latin orthography of Muuse Xaaji Ismaaciil Galaal (1914-1980).
The Osmanya alphabet is not used much these days, though during the 1970s quite a number of people used it for personal correspondence and bookkeeping. A few books and magazines have also been published in the alphabet.

Notable features

  • Direction of writing: left to right in horizontal rows.
  • The names of the letters are based on Arabic letter names.
  • The letters waw and ya are used to write the long vowels uu and ii respectively.
  • Somali is a tonal language with four tones which are not usually marked in writing. The tones have grammatical uses: theny indicate number, gender and case.
Somali/Osmanya alphabet


Somali/Osmanya numerals

Sample text

𐒛𐒆𐒖𐒒𐒖𐒔𐒖 𐒊𐒖𐒑𐒑𐒛𐒒𐒂𐒕𐒈 𐒓𐒚𐒄𐒓 𐒊𐒖𐒉𐒛 𐒘𐒈𐒖𐒌𐒝 𐒄𐒙𐒇 𐒖𐒔 𐒏𐒖𐒒𐒖 𐒈𐒘𐒑𐒖𐒒 𐒄𐒖𐒌𐒌𐒖 𐒉𐒖𐒇𐒖𐒍𐒂𐒖 𐒘𐒕𐒙 𐒄𐒚𐒎𐒓𐒎𐒖𐒆𐒖 𐒓𐒖𐒄𐒛 𐒖𐒐𐒐𐒗 (𐒘𐒐𐒛𐒔) 𐒈𐒕𐒕𐒖𐒕 𐒖𐒎𐒝𐒒 𐒘𐒕𐒙 𐒓𐒖𐒋𐒕𐒘, 𐒓𐒛𐒒𐒖 𐒘𐒒 𐒎𐒙𐒍 𐒐𐒖 𐒖𐒇𐒏𐒛 𐒎𐒙𐒍𐒏𐒖 𐒏𐒖𐒐𐒗 𐒚𐒐𐒖 𐒊𐒖𐒎𐒑𐒛 𐒈𐒘 𐒓𐒖𐒐𐒛𐒐𐒂𐒘𐒒𐒘𐒑𐒙 𐒖𐒔.

Kaddare alphabet

The Kaddare alphabet was invented by Sheikh Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare of the Abgaal Hawiye clan in 1952. The letters have upper forms, which are shown on the first row of the chart below, and lower case forms, which are shown on the second row.
Kaddare alphabet

Sample text

Sample text in the Kaddare alphabet
Source: http://www.skyknowledge.com/kaddare.htm - alphabet information based on research by Ian James, who is uncertain about the use of this alphabet.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Latin alphabet for Somali

In 1961 both the Latin and Osmanya scripts were adopted for use in Somalia, but in 1969 there was a coup, with one of its stated aims the resolution of the debate over the country's writing system. The Latin alphabet was finally adopted in 1972 and at the same time Somali was made the sole official language of Somalia. Shire Jama Ahmed (Shire Jaamac Axmed / شيري جامع أحمد‎) is credited with the invention of this spelling system, and his system was chosen from among eighteen competing new orthographies.
Latin alphabet for Somali

Sample text

Aadanaha dhammaantiis wuxuu dhashaa isagoo xor ah kana siman xagga sharafta iyo xuquuqada Waxaa Alle (Ilaah) siiyay aqoon iyo wacyi, waana in qof la arkaa qofka kale ula dhaqmaa si walaaltinimo ah.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Useful phrases in Somali | Tower of Babel in Somali
books   Somali language learning materials


Information about the Somali language
Information about Somali alphabets
http://www.somaliedu.com/Somali Education/Maqaallo/taariikhda qoraalka farsoomaaliga.htm
Free Osmanya fonts
BBC worldservice in Somali (includes audio)
Somali <> English translation service
Somalinet - a Somali portal (in Somali & English)


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