Which language family does Somali belong to?
The Somali language is a member of the East Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family and is closely related to Oromo, the third most widely spoken language in Africa after Hausa and Arabic which is spoken in the south central region in Ethiopia and northern Kenya.
Is Somali inflected?
Yes, Somali is a highly inflectional and derivational language. It uses cases, numbers and genders. Each Somali noun and pronoun has four commonly occurring cases (absolutive, nominative, genitive, and vocative) in addition to two numbers (singular and plural) and two genders (masculine and feminine).
Are there genders?
Somali nouns have a gender polarity that has nothing to do with sex. Gender does not follow any particular obvious rules, although Somali learners find it rather easy to guess. Some nouns have one grammatical gender in the singular and another one in the plural.
How flexible is Somali word order?
Considerably more flexible than English. While the vast majority of English sentences are in Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order, the typical structure of Somali sentences is Subject-Object-Verb (SOV). In general, Somali has topic-focus grammatical categories that mark the information structure of sentences and indicate where the focus is located in the sentence.
How are questions asked? Does Somali use auxiliary verbs or Intonation to form questions?
Somali questions can be formed by using a question word (maxaa, muxuu, halkee, etc.) at the beginning of a sentence or (-kee, -tee) at the end of the noun or (kuma, tuma, yaa, kuwee, kuwama, etc.) at the beginning of a pronoun. There are three basic tones in Somali: high, low and falling that operate at the grammatical level in singular/plural and masculine/feminine rather than at the lexical level.
Are there any Somali sounds that are hard to pronounce for English native speakers?
Yes. There are a few letters of Arabic origin, symbolized in Somali as X; KH; DH and C, which can be initially hard to pronounce, but once practiced their pronunciation becomes easier, especially because each letter corresponds to one sound.
Are Somali words longer, shorter or about the same as in English?
The average Somali word contains more letters than the average English word.
How similar is Somali vocabulary to English?
Somali and English do not have many words in common. Somali has been heavily influenced by Arabic mainly through the medium of Islam. Somali also has imported words from former colonizers, such as Italian, English, and French.
Do you use the imperial (inches, gallons, Fahrenheit) or the metric system?
Somalis use the Metric system (kilograms, meters, liters, Celsius degrees, etc.)
Does Somali use any special characters?
Somali uses the same script as English but there are some letters in the English alphabet that don’t exist in Somali such as p, v, and z. On the other hand, there are letters such as kh, sh and dh that have their own sound and are considered single letters in the Somali alphabet.
Are there short and long vowels?
Yes, there are short and long vowels in Somali. The short vowels are (a, e, i, o, u) and the long ones are written as double characters (aa, ee, ii, oo, uu) and have a double duration.
On the average, do people in your country speak faster than Americans?
Yes, Somalis speak faster in general.
Is each letter of the alphabet pronounced always in the same way?
Yes. This feature provides a relief in an otherwise complex language.
Are there any unique facts about Somali?
- There are only four prepositions and they come before the verb rather than before the noun. Because they are so few, Somali prepositions have a wide range of meanings which can be a challenge when learning Somali as a second language.
- The consonants b, d, dh, g, l, m, n, and r can be doubled to indicate a sound which is pronounced with much more emphasis than its single counterpart.
- There is no equivalent English indefinite article (a/an) in Somali language. The concept of indefiniteness is expressed by the noun alone.
- And finally, Somali lacks a passive voice; instead, it uses the indefinite pronoun “la” which means ‘someone’.