Week 3 of loving Somali: Coffee and Somali

Coffee is the "brown" of Africa
Coffee is the “brown” of Africa

“Are you going to eat?” This is my spontaneous Somali phrase I came up with as I bumped into a Somali friend in the cafeteria at work. I left out the mood particle (see below), but he understood me. Hooray for a victory!

Speaking of eating, I learned a little about coffee this week. “Coffee” is the stereotypical brown color in North Africa, it seems.

I’ve had some tough moments. Vocabulary has been tough–less of a victory. As vocabulary words built up over the past few weeks, the wave broke and knocked me down. I’ve noticed that the first couple weeks of vocabulary were easy. Only a few of the words were a challenge, and by the time they rolled around a time or two, I could remember. Now, with another 100 words I have a harder time remembering those words that were hard in the beginning. I continue to plow through, as I know that the useful words will stick when it’s time.

Today I also followed up with a potential lead for a local Somali teacher. He’s a professor at a local university, which, I’m happy to say, offers Somali. I’m hoping he has some good leads.

Here are the unique traits and challenges of Somali I discovered this week.

  1. Brown” is coffee-colored in Africa. The English word “brown” comes from the Indo-European word for “brown.” That’s boring. It was interesting to find that in Somali, however, the word for brown comes from the word for “coffee.” You have more than one word to choose from. One word comes from European (Italian?),kafay, and another from Ethiopian, bunni, both meaning “coffee.” Several years ago I noticed the same thing in Moroccan Arabaic, where brown is qahwi meaning “coffee,” while the Modern Standard Arabic word is the same as Ethiopian bunni.
  2. Sanka means “the nose.” I wonder if the instant coffee folks thought of leading some focus-groups in East Africa?
  3. “Write here the names of the coins and notes used in your area.” Different names of units of money? This matter of dialects is becoming curiouser and curiouser, after looking at the matter of greetings in last week’s post. Does anyone know a resource that describes local variants of Somali?
  4. Four moods of Somali. This is a complicated syntactic and semantic grammatical item. Somali requires a mood particle in every sentence (except imperatives), and it’s usually attached to a personal suffix. For example, one says, Anigu takhtar baan ahay, “I am a doctor.” Anigu means “I” and ahay means “am”. The word baan consists of baa + aan which are the particle plus the suffix for “I” (first person singular).A grammatical sentence must include one of four particles: waa for declarative (unmarked), baa for a focused subject, ma for questions, and ma for negatives (with a different tone than the question marker). This particle comes in addition to the verb. I will report more on this peculiar phenomenon as I learn more.
  5. Verb “to be” is different in the affirmative and the negative. For example, “We are” is baan nahay but “We are not” is ma ahin. This may take a while to sink in. I wonder if English “You’re” vs “You aren’t” causes this much confusion to English learners? When spoken, they sound really different.

Need some help!

I ran across the phrase, Tartiib u hadal. I know it means, “Speak slowly,” but I don’t know what the u particle means. Can someone please advise?

Also, I found the phrase, Iigu soo celi. I know it means, “Repeat for me,” but what does it mean literally?

Thanks to a friend, I solved the “shirt in pants” dilemma from last week. I felt good when the sentence made him furrow his brow; he was just as confused. It was supposed to say, “Don’t make the shirt for me, but the pants for me.” Without the verb in the second clause, he was confused. The conjunction ee caused difficulties for Google Translate, as well as for my friend. He said it’s kind of a conjunction, but not exactly “but.” Any suggestions for the translation of ee?

How are you doing with vocabulary this week? Is the wave settling or crashing?

Any new discoveries in your language? Please let us know!

Do you have any suggestions to offer me or others?

Please post or Tweet if you love Somali language and language discoveries!

Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg / Foter / CC BY-SA

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7 thoughts on “Week 3 of loving Somali: Coffee and Somali

  1. Gaelic uses “tha” for “is” but “chan eil” for “isn’t”. Also “a bheil?” for “is?” and “nach eil?” for “isn’t?”. Very confusing for English learners, particularly as this happens for every verb… And there’s no word for “yes” or “no”, so you just reply using the verb.

    I should hope that English-learners are first taught “you are” and “you are not”, and then taught the contractions. It would be simpler that way to understand what they mean, than learning “you’re” and “you aren’t”. (Although in some places, it’s more common to say “you’re not” than “you aren’t”, I think).

    So let me get this right: you need to attach a pronoun indicator thing to the article (a) if it’s you being the thing? Why is that called a “mood”? (What does mood mean? Some languages it seems to refer to “can” “want” “may” “should”, etc, while others it seems to mean more like voice, and others… I don’t know.)

    Does the word “brown” come from “coffee”, or the word “coffee” come from “brown”?

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  4. Thank you and keep up the good work!… This Somalian is learning Somali from you!

    Tartiib – u – hadal literally means
    tartiib – slowly
    hadal – speak
    u- is used to make the sentence flow more fluidly but in essence doesn’t really have a meaning.

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  5. Pingback: How do you teach adults a foreign language? – Loving Language

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