SOAS University of London

SOAS Language Centre

Somali at SOAS Language Centre

Somali is from the Afroasiatic language family and belongs to the Cushitic branch.  Somali is the best documented language within the Cushitic branch, with academic studies of it dating back to the late 19th century. Somali is the most widely spoken Cushitic language after Oromo, a language of Southern Ethiopia to which it is adjacent and with which it shares considerable cultural influences.   

Somali is spoken in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya but, following the start of the civil war in the early 1990s, there has been a steady increase of Somali-speakers in many other parts of the Middle East, North America and Europe. There are around 20 million speakers of Somali worldwide, around half of whom are within Somalia and Somaliland, where it is spoken by virtually all. In Djibouti, the majority of the population speaks Somali.

Somali is a complex language, both in its sound system and in its grammatical structure. The variety within the pronunciation of its vowels makes Somali a rather musical language and one in which pitch accent determines the meaning of a word as, for example, ínan (‘boy’) and inán (‘girl’). Somali has borrowed a number of loanwords, mainly from Arabic, the language most strongly associated with Islam and with which a large number of Somalis are bilingual.

The SOAS Language Centre can offer the following course in Somali: