Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Language Profile: Somali

Today we'll be taking a look at Somali, a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family that includes Oromo and Hausa. It is the native language of the Somali ethnic group who principally live in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali peninsula. 

Somali is spoken by about 95% of the population of Somalia, where it is an official language alongside Arabic. In Djibouti, it is a recognized national language that is spoken by the majority of the population. It is also used in television and radio. The Somali language is also a recognized language of Ethiopia, where it is the third most-spoken language.

Waterfalls in northern Somalia.
There are a few varieties of the Somali language. Northern Somali is the most prestigious variety, and is the basis of Standard Somali. It is frequently used by the political elite and poets. Benadiri Somali is spoken on the southern coast of the country. There is also Maay, which is a distinct language according to the Ethnologue. Spoken in southern Somalia, the Maay language is not intelligible with Northern or Benadiri Somali due to major differences in phonology and sentence structure. 

Over the years, the Somali lexicon has been influenced by several languages. Approximately 20% of Somali terms come from Arabic, especially those related to religion, government, and education. The language also contains loanwords from English, as well as Persian, Urdu, and Hindi.

In terms of orthography, Somali is written using a Latin-based alphabet that was officially adopted by Somalia in 1972. It uses all the letters from the English alphabet except p, v, and z. No diacritics are used, though the apostrophe is used to denote the presence of a glottal stop.