Language Fact File – Somali

Spoken in: Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and northeastern Kenya.

Number of native speakers: 24 million

Learn some: Greet a long lost friend with ‘Wakhti dheer kuma arag!”, which means ‘long time, no see’.

Fast facts:

  • The Somali language originated in the Horn of Africa, probably in the first millennium BCE. This region is known for its linguistic richness and diversity, due to the historical trade and contact between different ethnic and cultural groups there. The predominant influence on the language has been Arabic.
  • Somali is officially written using a modified Latin alphabet, which replaced Arabic script in the 1970s. There are however three other writing systems also in use: Wadaad, Osmanya and Borama. 
  • It is an extremely difficult language to learn! It has sounds from Arabic that learners tend to struggle with (kha, emphatic ha, qaf), tones similar to those used in the Mandarin language, irregular plurals, and an incredibly complex system for prepositions. What is more, Somali poetry is very culturally important and native users of the language often draw on classical poems in their everyday speech – leaving the uninitiated very confused!