The Sound System and Pronunciation
uses all but three letters (p, v, and z) of the English
alphabet. Of the thirty-three sounds, fifteen (b, d, f,
g, h, j, k, l, m, n, s, sh, t, w, and y) are very much like
their English counterparts.
Somali has seven consonants (c, dh, kh, q, r, x and '
[glottal stop]) that do not match anything in English. The
English sounds most likely to present difficulties for Somalis
are those represented by the letters c, q, r, and x, since
these letters are pronounced quite differently in Somali.
For pronunciation of Somali letters.
In Somali, the consonants b, d, dh, g, l, m, n, and r
can be doubled to indicate a sound which is pronounced with
much more force than its single counterpart. Thus, Somalis
often pronounce the doubled consonants in English words
such as "bigger," "middle," "merry," "simmer," and "nibble"
with more strength than they would be pronounced by a native
speaker of English.
Vowels always have fixed value in Somali; each letter has
one sound and each sound has one lette
Long vowels (aa, ee, ii, oo, uu) are used in Somali and
pronounced about twice as long as a single counterpart
English vowels will present some difficulty to Somalis,
since English lacks Somali's one-to-one correspondence between
vowel letters and sounds; in English, each letter has more
than one sound, and each sound has more than one spelling.
Typically, Somalis will pronounce English words the way
they would pronounce them in Somali. Thus, boat might be
pronounced "bow-at" with two syllables, and the word may
might be pronounced "my."
Somalis may draw out English double vowels, as in noon
or been, giving them the long sound that doubled vowel letters
represent in Somali.
Tone occurs in Somali, but it is not as complex as in Chinese,
in which every word has a special tone pattern. In Somali,
tone rarely marks a difference in word meaning. This aspect
of Somali is not likely to create a problem for Somalis
The Grammatical System
and English are quite different when it comes to the and
a. The definite article in Somali has gender suffixes; like
French, the Somali definite article has a masculine and
Somalis can have difficulty mastering the English indefinite
article (a/an) because their own language has no equivalent.
In Somali, the concept of indefiniteness is expressed by
the noun alone.
In Somali, differences in gender, number, or case are marked
by grammatical tone:
' inán 'girl' [gender] díbi 'ox' dibí 'oxen' [number] Múuse
'Moses' Mu'use 'Hey, Moses' [vocative case]
The system of case marking is so different between the
two languages that mistakes are unavoidable. Typically,
a Somali will drop the apostrophe-s possessive in favor
of a tone change, e.g., "Mary book", with a rising intonation
on the first syllable of "Mary".
In Somali, most adjectives are formed by adding -an or
-san to a verb or noun. Thus, gaab 'shortness' becomes gaaban
'short', and qurux 'beauty' becomes quruxsan 'beautiful'.
Somalis may coin some interesting English adjectives by
a similar process.
Somali adjectives often occur with a short form of the
verb to be suffixed to them. For example, yar 'small' becomes
yaraa 'he was small'. As a result, Somali speakers of English
tend to add aa to adjectives. Thus, instead of saying "small",
they might say something that sounds like "small-ah". This
may cause confusion, particularly among British speakers
of English, who may think the speaker is saying "smaller".
Prepositions English prepositions can cause great difficulty
for Somalis. Whereas English has a great variety of prepositions,
Somali has only four, and they come before the verb rather
than before the noun. Because they are so few, Somali prepositions
have a wide range of meanings:
Verbs usually come last in Somali sentences. As a result,
Somali speakers of English may tend to put the verb at the
end of a sentence. Somali lacks a passive voice. Instead
of the passive, Somali uses the indefinite pronoun la 'someone',
as in Goormaa la dhisey? "When was it built?" (literally,
"When someone built?"). Using English passives correctly
can be a major challenge for Somali students of English.
Somali has a present habitual and a present progressive
tense, but they are not used in the same contexts in which
these tenses are used in English. Somali uses the present
progressive tense where the simple present tense would be
used in English, and this feature of Somali may carry over
into the English speech of Somalis. Somali speakers of English
often make use of the present progressive tense ("I am going
to work every day") where English speakers would use the
simple present ("I go to work every day").
The Importance of
Somali has a rich tradition of proverbs, passed on from
previous generations and embellished by individual speakers.
Proverbs play a very important role in everyday speech.
la'aani waa iftiin la'aan. Being without knowledge
is to be without light.
wada jir bey wax ku gooyaan. Unity is power.
(literally, "Together the teeth can cut.")
falin ka fiirso. Look before you leap. (literally,
"Think before you do.")
doogi ma haro. An old wound will not go away.
This is one area where Somalis find English impoverished.
Some will go to great effort to learn English sayings and
use them far too frequently; others may translate literally
from the Somali and hope for the best.
The Writing System
Somali has had a written form only since 1972. Because
only a small segment of Somali society young adults who
studied Somali spelling in schoo lhas throughly mastered
Somali orthography, spelling mistakes are frequent. Spelling
errors occur frequently in the Somali press and in government
reports. Most errors involve using single, rather than doubled,
vowels or consonants.
basic somali expressions:
|Ma nabad baa?
||Hello. [literally, "Is it peace?" standard greeting]
||Hello. [literally, "It is peace." in response]
||What is your name?
||How are you?