Moving deeper into Somali, I’m discovering more unique, beautiful features of this language. The way of life coupled with grammatical features continue to reveal how exciting this language is. Discovering new verb formations and glimpsing into a Somali kitchen excited my curiosity. At the same time, I think I’m getting exhausted by my rate of vocabulary study; I literally fell asleep on the couch last night with my Anki app. My brain is crying out for different stimuli.
Study progress update
Loading up on vocab. I’ve been following the philosophy of immersing myself with as much new vocabulary as possible. My Anki deck is over 400 words now after 11 units of my book, averaging over 35 words per unit, and over 70 words per week. It’s getting tiring, honestly. I haven’t figured out how to reinforce word study with reading. Reading is important because it gives me new contexts for words and grammar points, and thus reinforces memory. I’m relying on brute memorization. I don’t worry about forgetting the words; Anki will gently remind me of them. Yet I’m really tired of just disembodied vocabulary. Maybe taking a break from the book and from adding new vocab would be worth it so I can read some news and Twitter conversations and such.
Somali homes look different. This book certainly focuses on more rural, traditional life. The vocabulary related to the kitchen includes words like “fire” and “charcoal,” but also “light” and “fan.” Can someone tell me if this is typical Somali life, a charcoal fire in the kitchen illuminated by an electric light and ventilated with an electric fan? Is Mogadishu like this or is this only in the country?
- Reduplication. This is the linguistic concept where you repeat an item for some sort of “strengthening” effect. In Indonesian for example, orang means “person,” while orang orang means “people.” Semitic languages have a verb form that doubles the middle consonant for “strengtheng” (Arb. fa”ala, Heb. pi’el). In Somali we find reduplication inside verbs. The word buux means “be full,” but buuxbuuxi means “fill in,” as in “fill in the table below.” Simliarly, deg means “descend, dismount,” and degdeg means “hurry.” Are there other examples like this? Is it possible to create new words like this?
- Where is the action heading? Every language has a unique nugget that can only be found in it. I’m such a language geek that I get more excited about this than when I was collecting comic books and found an Avengers #1 in a box of junk my grandpa bought at an auction.
In Somali one can indicate the direction of action in a uniquely fine-grained way. I learned this week that you can add the adverb soo if the action is happening towards me, the speaker, or you can add kuu if the action is happening towards you, my addressee. So if I say, Soo gal! it means “Come in!” but with the nuance that I am already inside and you are coming towards me. Maxaan kuu keenaa? means “What should I bring to you?” but with the nuance that I am bringing it to you. Technically, the second example is a prepositional phrase, literally meaning “to you,” and the first example is an adverb, but I want to see if they get used in similar contexts.
- You can’t just “be” in Somali. I learned that there are three (that I know of so far) different ways to “be” in Somali. Here’s how you use them.
- If you possess a certain quality or belong to a class then you use the verb yahay, for example, Weyn baad tahay “You are tall,” or Mareykan baan ahay “I am American.”
- If something is present or exists, you say joog or jir (can someone explain the difference between these two?), for example, Gurigaa buu ku jiraa “He is in the house.”
- If someone or something is positioned in a particular way, then one uses yaal, for example, Kidhligu dabka buu dul yaal “The pot is on the fire.”
Fadlan soo caawi!
- Please offer me apologies. This book begins every chapter with some helpful everyday phrases. This chapter’s “everyday” section highlights “apologies.” Thanks to a misprint, however, it offered the same phrases for warnings as the last chapter. Could someone please give me some common phrases of apology for me? How do you apologize for doing something bad, for example, compared to how you excuse yourself for interrupting a conversation to ask a question? Here’s a typical Minnesota situation: I go with my family to a Somali restaurant and start sitting down in the men’s section rather than the family section. How do you apologize for that in Somali?
- I got stuck on a few sentences. Can anyone help me with the following?
- Weedho samey adoo adagsanayaa erayada taxnaan ee hoosta ku qoran. Could someone give a literal translation? I especially don’t understand adoo.
- Xaggee lagu hayaa? Could someone translate, please?
- Ninkani waa miskiin = Waa nin miskiin ah. What is the difference between these two sentences? Does someone know why you don’t need yahay in the first sentences, and you have ah instead of yahay in the second?
Thank you for all of your help! I’m learning a lot from my Somali-speaking friends here and on Twitter. Even some of my local friends in Minnesota are sending me SMS messages in Somali. It’s a great way for me to practice my language at odd moments during the day and to create Somali sentences without too much pressure.
I’ve also found so many interesting points for linguistic study. Some of it is simply descriptive and some is deeper examination of unique features. The breadth of influence on vocabulary, including dialectical differences; relative clauses; adverbial and prepositional directional and deictic indicators; articles and topicality; regional pronunciation differences; and verbal reduplication in the context of Afro-Asiatic. When I look for academic scholars on Somali language, I mainly find discussions on tone, noun phrases, and topicality. I’m not so far off, it seems. I’m surprised no one has mentioned verbal reduplication. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it though…
Are you ready to switch study strategies yet? Did you already? What works for you? What doesn’t? What changes?
What’s the coolest thing about your language? What fascinates you about it?