A Few Words

Know Your Languages: Somali – Picking the right words and the appropriate writing system

Posted by Annette Heidrich on Dec 17, 2014 5:58:00 PM

Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Gulf of Aden, and has a population of 10 million people. The official languages of Somalia are Arabic and Somali. Manysomalia_map Somalis left their country after the outbreak of a civil war in the 1990s, seeking asylum. This caused the increase in demand of translation into Somali by mainly Government departments and NGOs.

A number of different writing systems have been used for Somali. The Somali Latin alphabet, which has been the official writing script since 1972, is the most widely used. This script was specifically developed by a linguist and uses all letters of the English alphabet, except p, v and z.  Other scripts have been used for centuries including an Arabic-based abjad known as Wadaad’s writing, and the Boroma, Omanya and Kaddare alphabets. Samples can be seen below:













Latin alphabet:

Aadanaha dhammaantiis wuxuu

dhashaa isagoo xor ah kana

siman xagga sharafta iyo xuquuqada

Waxaa Alle (Ilaah) siiyay aqoon iyo

wacyi, waana in qof la arkaa qofka

kale ula dhaqmaa si walaaltinimo ah


Somali is a very rich language and when translating from English into Somali, this has to be taken into consideration. A word-for-word translation wouldn't work, as the concepts have to be ‘translated’ into the Somali cultural context .

Another challenge when translating into Somali is that only a small segment of the society has studied Somali spelling in school and has been able to master the written language. New Somali terms were created to express concepts that did not previously exist in the language, mainly relating to the way of life, health and government and education. It is therefore important to determine which script is best suited for the target audience and subject matter being conveyed.


Topics: Know Your Languages

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