We have language exchange for an hour, twice a week. We sit at a picnic table, speaking English for the first half hour and Somali for the second half hour. In English, I wear my “encouraging” face, nodding with eyebrows raised, while she sputters and stumbles around absentee vocabulary. In Somali, I sputter and she encourages, repeating sentences so slowly they cease to connect — just a list of words I struggle to grasp.
I appreciate her, though. We have a sort of mutual understanding, which is surprisingly hard to come by. We both recognise that the other has thoughts and ideas far beyond what is expressible in a foreign tongue. I can see it in her eyes, the way they search and consider and crinkle around the edges when the right word doesn’t come. She can see it in my hands, in how they tense and flatten with frustration when I can’t transform my thought into Somali. We just sit there, looking at each other, trying to guess what the other wants to say.
It must be something incredible, I think. She is already an incredible speaker in English, even though she’s missing basic words like “stone” and “roof.” To understand her in Somali would be beyond striking, and that has become my motivation. I don’t care about buying things in the market, or answering the phone — no, no. I just want to learn Somali to understand her ideas, the ones that just won’t cooperate in English.
I listen — ii gu celi? — and then listen again. I can tell she’s continuing our conversation about justice, but I lose her in translation. My response is feeble, but I’m glad for the chance to try. Otherwise, our interactions would be defined by English. I would always be fluent, and she would always have to stumble.
In a previous post, I learned vocabulary for foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. Today, I’ll be expanding my repertoire to include other words related to food, such as kitchen items, flavours, and dishes.
cup = bakeeri/koob
fork = farogeeto
spoon = malqacad
knife = mindi
plate = bilaydh/saxan
spicy = besbaas
bad = xun
sweet = macaan
bland = bilaa-dhadhan
egg (from a chicken) = beed/ukun (plural = ukumo)
egg (generally) = ugax (plural = ugxan)
flour = daqiiq
honey = malab
oil = saliid
salt = cusbo
loows = peanuts
cinnamon = qorfe
spices = xawaash
ice = baraf
juice = casiir
wheat = sarreen
stew = sanuunad
Voila — 22 more words! See you again here tomorrow!
Today was the first day I could actually use my Somali to express something for a given situation, which was quite exciting for me! Granted, it was simply to ask whether the juice had milk in it, but it still counts!
That being said, the word I wanted to use but didn’t know was for “daughter,” so today’s vocabulary is going to address that gap: family words!
Gendered Family Words
mother = hooyo
father = aabbe
grandmother = ayeeyo
grandfather = awoowe
daughter = gabadh
son = wiil
woman/wife = naag
man/husband = nin
aunt = eeddo
uncle = adeer
More Family Words
person = qof (people = dad)
child = ilmo (children = carruur)
brother/sister = walaal
cousin = ina-abti
twins = mataano
immediate family = qoys extended family = reer
family ties = xiddid qabiil = clan tol = geneology
In this post, we’re going to go through the present tense conjugation, and then do some practice with it.
Conjugating the Present Tense
The present tense in Somali is quite straightforward. You’re just going to take the verb and add suffixes, depending on who the subject is.
verb ends in consonant
verb ends in I or EE
verb ends in “consonant-consonant-O”(drop the O)
verb ends in “vowel-consonant-O”(drop the O)
This table shows the suffixes added in the present tense, depending on the subject.
Overall, we can notice the following patterns:
When the subject is either “you” (waad) or “she” (way), the suffix starts with /t/.
When the subject is plural, the suffix includes /n/. The /n/ comes at the beginning of the “we” (waannu/weynu) suffix, and at the end of the “you all” (waad) and “they” (wey) suffixes.
The first two columns are very similar, with the following differences:
The /+aa/ suffix changes to /+yaa/ when the verb ends in I or EE. This is already how we pronounce that “i+aa” sound, so just remember to actually write in that /y/.
The /+taa/ suffix changes to /+saan/ when the verb ends in I or EE.
The last two columns get a bit more complicated, but the general idea (especially with /n/ in plural suffixes) remains. That being said, there are some exceptions and irregularities, so consider the above table as a general rule.
Work, work, work, work, work! It’s a constant topic, in any language. Knowing the words to describe different careers is incredibly useful, whether during introductions or discussions.
Vocabulary words to describe different careers in Af-Soomaali
As a language learner, it’s a good idea to think about how to use vocabulary words in a sentence (eventually, if not yet). For example, career vocabulary is great for a beginning language-learner, because it can be used in grammatically simple sentences such as “I am a _____” or “she is a _____.” In that vein, here are two useful/related phrases.
What do you do for work? (literally “what is your job?”)
Waa maxay shaqadaadu?
I am a….
… baan ahay.
Phrases to ask and answer about careers during introductions
In a previous post, I wrote about subject pronouns, in the “declarative” (sentence) sense. Of course, a conversation usually consists of both sentences (declarative) and questions (interrogative). So, today will be about the interrogative, so that we can start putting together small conversations.
Here’s a table showing pronouns, the declarative marker, and the interrogative marker for each person. Just like the declarative marker is formed as “waa+suffix,” the interrogative marker is formed as “ma+suffix.” That being said, it comes out looking like “miy+suffix.”
Forming the Interrogative
DECLARATIVE (with complement)
ma+aan = miyaan
ma+aad = miyaad
ma+uu = miyuu
ma+ay = miyay
ma+aannu = miyaannu
ma+aynu = miyaynu
ma+aydin = miyaydin
ma+ay = miyay
Using the Interrogative
Note: the rest of this post assumes you’re already familiar with the simple past tense (positive). If you need a refresher, click here for the post about the past tense.
Okay, let’s leave the jargon behind. These “ma” words are used similarly to the English question word “do.” Yes/no questions which would begin with “do” in English begin with these “ma+suffix” participles (words) in Somali.
Did you eat lunch? Qado miyaad cuntay?
Yes, I ate lunch. Haa, qado waxaan cunay.
Did you sleep? Miyaad seexatay?
Yes, I slept. Haa, waan seextay.
Did you (all) arrive? Miyaydin gaadhteen?
Yes, we arrived. Haa, waannu gadhnay.
Did they go to Somaliland? Somaliland miyay tageen?
Yes, they went to Somaliland. Haa, Somaliland waxay tageen.
Did you (all) drink tea? Shaah miyaydin cabteen?
Yes, we drank tea. Haa, shaah waxaannu cabteen.
Did he enter the house? Guriga miyuu galay?
Yes, he entered the house. Haa, guriga waxuu galay.
Did she bring breakfast? Quraac miyay keentay?
Yes, she brought breakfast. Haa, quraac waxay keentay.
Reminder: I am a language-learner, and am very open to any corrections! Please comment if you see any errors!
Obviously, there aren’t any “no” answers so far — I haven’t learned the negative version of the past tense yes, but I’ll be sure to share when I do!
I am in Somaliland! Travel went smoothly, and now I’m getting settled in. I’ve realised already that because my work context is in English (compared to Ethiopia, where it was in Amharic), I’m going to have to go out of my way to practice and use Somali on a daily basis. Of course, that’s my plan — I can’t imagine spending a year here and not continuing to study and learn Somali!
In any case, I think the next set of useful vocabulary will be about daily routines. I’ve learned how to conjugate the past tense for most verbs, so I’m going to try and learn vocabulary which can be useful (in connection with that).
eat (verb) = cun
breakfast (verb/noun) = quraac
lunch (noun) = qado
dinner (noun) = casho
clean (verb) = nadifiin
work (noun) = shaqo
work (verb) = shaq
make (verb) = samee
read (verb) = akhri
write (verb) = qor
tea (noun) = shaah
flatbread (noun) = laxoox
bring (verb) = keen
arrive/reach (verb) = gaadh
be quiet (verb) = aammus
then = dabadeedna
teach (verb) = bar
learn (verb) = baro
take (verb) = qaad
be sick (verb) = bug
now = imminka
talk = hadal
Ta-da! Hopefully those will help me communicate about my daily routine, and things that I did.
I’ve been finishing up packing, so I’ve definitely got clothing on my mind! So, I figure today is as good of a day as any to learn some clothing vocabulary in Somali.
I already learned on Day 1 of this challenge that “clothes” in Somali is “dhar(ka),” and I’m ready to dive into the rest!
Part 1: Translate-able Dharka Vocabulary
shirt = shaati
pants = surwaal
jacket = jaakad
socks = sharaabaad
shoes = kabo
hijab = xijaab
skirt = goonno
belt = suun
necklace = silsilad
bracelet = jijin
shawl = shalmad
bra = rajabeeto
underwear = nigis
earring = hilqado
Part 2: Non-Translateable Dharka Vocabulary
There are various items of clothing, well-known in Somali culture (even though not everyone wears them), which don’t really have an English equivalent. Instead, I’ve tried to write up brief definitions for each one.
macawis = men’s traditional sarong, tied around the waist
koofiyad = men’s hat, often embroidered
guntiino = women’s traditional dress, a long cloth draped over the body
gorgorad = women’s slip/underskirt, worn with a guntiino
dirac = women’s kaftan-style dress
shash = headscarf worn by women
garbasaar = women’s shawl
abaaya = women’s dress with long sleeves
Actually Learning the Vocabulary
Some days, you just stare at the words and repeat them to yourself until you learn them. Kids, this is not best practice, don’t model your study habits off of this — but for today, it’s the reality for me.