Week 4 of loving Somali: Joy, pumpkins, and goat meat

Do you look like a pumpkin? Is that a good thing?
Do you look like a pumpkin? Is that a good thing?

Studying Somali brings me joy. I love discovering this language. Granted, I’m like Christopher Columbus, “discovering” people who didn’t know they needed discovering; I’m not exactly a pioneer. Nevertheless, my “discoveries” bring my mind to a world that at least I didn’t know, coming in contact with people so much like me, yet from a life that is so different. The newness of contact envigorates me.

This week I didn’t study as much as I planned, but I still had the opportunity to see a new landscape. I learned about a market filled with mango, goat meat, and pumpkins. I also got to see new ways of ordering language, of expressing oneself. Maybe my dear readers would like to help me with some of the sticking points I came across this week? This never gets old for me!

Study progress update

I missed a lesson. When I work through my book, I read through the lesson, take a couple notes on the grammar, and plug the vocabulary into Anki for review over the week. The process takes about an hour, and I do it twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday. Last Sunday, however, I had activities all day long and never was able to spare an hour. Moreover, I missed two days of vocabulary review.

Often I would feel defeated under such circumstances; this time, though, I just changed my calendar and pushed it off for half a week. I’m grateful that I was able to keep on my schedule and just recorrect a little. In the long run, it won’t matter.

Fun facts

  1. Pumpkin as a compliment? In looking up the foods from my book (the pictures are not always clear), I found that bocor means “squash” or “pumpkin.” The dictionary surprised me with another definition, “shapely (woman’s figure)”! Is this true? I tried to confirm, but I couldn’t. If you know, could you please tell me if it is considered a compliment or an insult in Somali? (I wasn’t planning on using it in either case, but I’m interested in understanding more about Somali perceptions.) In English, it is a term of endearment, usually for a child; my grandfather used to refer to my sister as “punkin'” (in his dialect). But it wasn’t referring to her body shape.
  2. Goat meat everywhere. This book is designed for foreigners living in Somalia. As a result, it is ruthlessly utilitarian, more focused on greeting people and buying things from the market than on museums and grammar. In the section on food, you have to learn many different vegetables. The only meat, however, is hilib adhi and hilib ari, and both can refer to goat and sheep (I believe). If this book as utilitarian as I think, then this must be the most important meat-word! Moreover, there is not one but two words: Is this because this meat is the overwhelming majority of protein? But we haven’t learned words for chicken, beef, etc. Goat and lamb must be the overwhelming meat of choice! (BTW I know it’s not absolutely so: I ate fish sambusa in Minneapolis and they were fantastic!)

Grammar facts

  1. Syntax of negation. Previously I noted that the negative is expressed with the particle ma. It appears to be more complicated. For example, “I do not do,” can be translated as, Anigu ma imanayo. “You do not do” is Adigu ma imanaysid. The root for “do” is maa. So we have in this sentence the personal pronoun plus the negative particle plus the verb, which includes a prefix and a suffix that combines the negative and the personal suffix.

    Another way of expressing the negative is, for the first person singular, Anigu iman maayo, and for the second person singular, Adigu iman maysid. It appears that the normal negative word drops out, supplanted by a word that looks like the prefix from above. We have no verbal prefix. Likewise, the negative suffix -na does not appear, only the personal suffix. I don’t have an explanation, but I hope to explore this further. Does anyone have an idea of a semantic difference between the two, such as, is one more “forceful” or “formal” or anything like that?

  2. Relative clauses. In this lesson I found two words that mark relative clauses: oo and ah, and I can’t sort them out yet. Here is the sentence in my book: Labada buug oo cagaarka ah halkan dhig. Normally, oo means “and” but that doesn’t make sense here. I would translate this as, “Put down the two books that are green, which is here.” The oo would seem to be a relative clause, otherwise I’d have to translate it, “Put down both book and the green…” Does anyone have any insight into this construction?

Need some help!

  1. beeyac What does this word mean? It is in the context of shopping and money.
  2. Weerahan What does this word mean? The whole sentence is, “Weerahan hoos ku qoran akhri.”

The deeper I get into Somali, the more joy I find. I learn about myself and my study habits. I discover the quirky aspects of the lovely Somali culture. I glean the complexity of the unique Somali grammar. I engage Somalis to help me get through the puzzles I encounter.

What keeps you going? What do you love when you study your language?

Photo credit: plushoff / Foter / CC BY-NC

5 thoughts on “Week 4 of loving Somali: Joy, pumpkins, and goat meat

  1. Pingback: Week 5 of loving Somali: Camel’s milk and hospitality | Loving Language

  2. Pingback: Week 6 of loving Somali: Reduplication and the kitchen | Loving Language

  3. Pingback: Week 7 of loving Somali: I can’t survive without grammar | Loving Language

  4. beeyac = price
    Weerahan = these sentences
    also: “I do not do.” is actually: “Anigu ma samayo.” I am not doing. = “Anigu ma samaynayo.”
    Anigu ma imanayo. = “I am not coming.”
    Adigu ma imanaysid. = “You are not coming.”
    Adigu ma samaynaysid. = “You are not doing.”


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