SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Languages of Africa at SOAS: Somali

Somali (Af Soomaali) is spoken throughout the eastern Horn of Africa in Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, north-east Kenya and south-east Djibouti. There is also a large Somali diaspora with people living in the UK, North America, parts of the Middle East and Europe. The roots of the Somali language have much in common with other Cushitic speaking people of East Africa such as the Oromos and Afars. Islam has also been one of the central formative processes of Somali history and this influence is naturally to be felt in the language wich contains a fair amount of Arabic vocabulary. It was in 1972 that the language first acquired an official writing system based on the Latin alphabet and since then written Somali has become widely used both in literature, journalism and on the internet. The Somalis have been described as a nation of bards since poetry plays a central role in their expressive culture. There is a large number of genres of poetry, some of which are performed to musical accompaniment.

If you would like to learn Somali contact Dr Martin Orwin ( in the Africa Section of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics.

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