Somalia:A Tale of Two Somali Language Speaker


There is a linguistic misunderstanding between two groups of Somali native speakers: Somalis who speak Arabic as second language and Somalis who don’t. Like their Arabic-speaking compatriots, non-Arabic-Speaking Somalis interlard their conversation with Arabic loan words. Arabic-speaking Somalis have gone to schools or lived in an Arab country. They have got the habit to spell an Arabic loan word the way they pronounce it in Arabic. For example there are two variant spellings of the Arabic loan word for ‘language’: luqad or luuqad. The first spelling reflects the Arabic pronunciation of the word –luqah- the feminine‘t’ becomes ‘d’ in the loan word. The second spelling contains an extra vowel (u) in the first syllable, and is preferred by Somalis who do not speak Arabic as a second language. The choice of spelling indicates the user is of “tipo Arabo” (Arabic type) — someone who went to an Arabic language school.

A misunderstanding arises when the two groups use the same Arabic loan word. Lack of attention paid to how each group of speakers makes sense of the word causes the misunderstanding. Many Arabic-speaking Somalis tend to forget how non-Arabic speaking Somalis make sense of an Arabic loan word.

To distance himself and his group from the assassination of a Sheikh in Somalia several years ago, a well-known Somali religious leader used the Arabic loan verb ‘inkir’ ( to deny). To a non-Arabic-speaking Somali this verb means “ to deny any wrongdoing despite the evidence”. After the former Prime Minister of the Somali Federal Government, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, resigned, a Somali website,, published a story on one of the prime ministerial candidates who “ is the president’s first choice”. The Somali word used is dawq — Somalised spelling is ‘dooq’ ; in Arabic it means ‘a taste’ but to non-Arabic-speaking Somali it implies a romantic choice— an insult to both the president and the candidate.

Some people stretch the meaning of Arabic loan words due to the Somali political and religious conflict., a Somali website, referred to Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, the religious paramilitary, as Mushrikiin ( idolaters) whereas an influential Somali Sheikh called Al-shabaab Khawaarij ( Kharijites). Two decades of conflict have radically shaped the Somali language compared with the Somali revolution (1969-1991).

Liban Ahmad

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