Somalia Languages and Dialects

By | December 15, 2021

Somali is a Cushitic language (thus belonging to the Semito-Hamitic family). Within the Cushitic, Somali forms a group with the related languages ​​ṣaho, dancalo and galla: a group that is usually designated with the name of low-Cushitic. For Somalia religion and languages, please check

Somali has traces of the influence it has suffered from Arabic-speaking groups for centuries; and this differentiates it from the gall to which it is so close for other particularities. The Somali no longer has the emphatic characteristics of the Cushitic followed by the closing of the vocalic cords, but instead the Somali q is only a velar explosive like the Arabic q. So too is a precacuminal explosive without the glottal occlusion of the surface.

From the point of view of morphology, the Somali has an intermediate position between the saho-dancalo and the galla. In fact, it has preserved both conjugations of the verb (the one for prefixes and suffixes and the one for suffixes only), such as saho and danakil; but the conjugation by prefixes is nowadays used only for very few verbs (five in the dialect isāq; three in the hawiyya dialect, etc.), thus also progressively approaching the surface, in which the conjugation by prefixes has completely disappeared.

Lexically, Somali is very close to the other Low-Cushitic languages ​​and also retains traces of its secular contacts with Sidama languages ​​prior to the Galla invasion of Ethiopia in the 10th century. XVI.

The limits of the territory in which Somali is spoken today do not completely coincide with the political borders of Somalia. In fact, Somali is spoken:

a) in French Somalia, in the area to the south of the Gulf of Tagiura (in the area to the north, the dancal is spoken instead);

b) in British Somalia;

c) in Italian Somalia (with the exception of the city of Brava and the Bagiuni Islands where Bantu languages ​​are spoken in addition to Somali);

d) in the Kenyan colony between the border of Italian Somalia up to an approximate line that starts from Gadaduma and reaches, via the Lorian, the Tana river;

e) in the Harar government on the border of Italian Somalia, British Somalia and French Somalia and a line that passing just east of Harar reaches the railway line between Hurso and Dire Daua (Dirḍabo, in Somali) and from there goes to the Abbè lake.

Somali is also spoken by the numerous emigrant groups in Aden and by sporadically constituted villages along the Djibouti railway with main centers in Afdam (Somali Hawiyya) and Auasc (Ḥawāsh) station.

Somali, the language of nomadic shepherds, is not unitary. The dialects differ considerably according to the large ethnic groups, but it is not possible, on the whole, to contrast a northern Somali with a southern Somali.

The dialect groups are:

a) that Isāq, which coincides with the tribes of the same name and includes the western and central part of British Somalia and the Somali colony of Aden. The Isāq dialect is distinguished from the others, in phonetics for having preserved the etymological in all cases and the q in several words; in morphology: for the double first person plural of pronouns (distinguishing the “we” inclusive of the listener from the exclusive “we” of the listener); for the durative with the suffix – ay, etc.

b) that Darod, spoken by the Darod people and by a part of the Hawiyya of the north (Habar Ghidir). It is the most widespread Somali dialect because it is spoken in the western part of British Somalia; in the Italian Migiurtinia, Ogadēn and Oltregiuba; in the Kenyan Colony up to the Tana River. The Darod dialect is distinguished from the others in phonetics: for having changed the intervocalic into r (migiurtino) or into (Ogadēn); in morphology: for having kept the double first plural of the pronoun; for the durative with – hay ;

c) the Hawiyya one, spoken by the Hawiyya peoples of the middle and lower valley of the Wēbi. The Hawiyya dialect changes the intervocalic into r ; the intervocalic q in ó ; has lost the distinction of two first plurals of the pronoun; has the durative in – hay ;

d) that Sab or Dighil, spoken by the Dighil people (called Sab by other Somali groups) living between Uebi and Juba. It is the dialect which, having superimposed itself on a substratum galla in recent times, has most felt the influence of the galla especially in phonetics; for example, the Dighil dialect no longer has the laryngals , ‛, which have been replaced by h and by ‘respectively. In the morphology the Dighil has preserved the relative mode in – aw (which corresponds to the subsive in – or of the other Somali dialects); and forms the negative imperative with the prefix in – preceding the verb, which is then followed by the suffix – oy: from the verb tum “to beat” has in dighil intumoy “do not beat!” (in the other Somali dialects hatumin).

History. – The history of Somalia, which, even at the beginning of the twentieth century, was practically ignored, is now beginning to delineate quite well through the study of the documents collected in recent years and the monuments studied by Italian orientalists.

The main sources for the history of Somalia are:

  1. the local Arab documents, which generally contain information on the establishment of the Arab colonies along the coast of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and on the relationship between these colonies and the centers of the Arabian Peninsula;
  2. local historical traditions, which are orally transmitted and preserved among the various Somali tribes and neighboring peoples;
  3. historical documents and Ethiopian chronicles, from which it is legitimate to deduce some circumstances that refer to relations between Somalia and Ethiopia;
  4. the Arabic inscriptions found in the monuments discovered especially in Mogadishu and Merca and which contain data especially on the medieval history of those Arab-Somali commercial centers;
  5. the coins of which some collections have already provided us with interesting data on relations between Italian Somalia and other small states of south-east Africa.

By examining the various sources listed here, we can summarize the history of Somalia from two points of view: that of the internal history of the region we call Somalia and that of the relations between this region and the other countries of Asia and Africa.

Somalia Languages and Dialects