Week 6 of loving Somali: Reduplication and the kitchen

What does a kitchen in Somalia look like?
What does a kitchen in Somalia look like?

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.

Fun facts

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?

Grammar facts

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

4 thoughts on “Week 6 of loving Somali: Reduplication and the kitchen

  1. Pingback: Week 14 of Loving Somali: Beauty beyond comprehension | Loving Language

  2. Sorry about the misprint on page 69 fir apologies. Those should be: “Iga raalli ahow.” = “Excuse me.” or “Bare with me.” “Waan ka xumahay.” = “I’m sorry.” or “I feel bad for you.” (in the case that something bad or sad has happened to the other person but not necessarily your fault). “Waan soo daahay.” = “I’m late.”
    The sentence you asked about: “Weedho samey adoo adagsanayaa erayada taxnaan ee hoosta ku qoran.” is actually part of the instructions for that page and it means, “Make sentences, using the words in the table written below.” The “La Soco” book as you have seen attempts to use Somali language as much as possible and use English as little as possible and is intended to be used while living in Somali community so that one can practice the phrases, dialogues and words with Somali informants as much as possible. The word “Weedho” = “sentences”; “samee” = “to do or make”; “adoo” = “Adiga” (you) + “oo” (one of the forms of “and”) however in this case it functions to add a subordinate clause which describes how you are to make the sentences in this way: “Make sentences, you using the ordered words which are written below.” (This is a very literal translation of the sentence).
    “Xaggee lagu hayaa?” means roughly “Where are you hurting or sick?” refers to a part of your body which is “sick” or “hurting.”
    “Ninkani waa miskiin.” = “This man is a poor man (pauper).” “Nin” = a man; “Ninka” = the man; “Ninkani” = this man;
    “waa” is just a linking word which connects two parts of a sentence – in this case one noun with another – so it is the simplest way to say ” – is – ” without using the verb “to be” – which is actually “ahow” (to be) and “yahay” is the 3rd person male form “he is”; “Miskiin” is “a poor man” or “pauper” so it is also a noun. Thus the sentence: “Waa nin miskiin ah.” is saying: “(He) is a poor man.” or “(He) is a man who is a poor-man/pauper.” where “miskiin” a noun, is being turned into or used as an adjective – in Somali the adjectives come after the noun they are modifying – by adding the particle “ah” (first part of the verb “to be” (ahow) after it. One could also say: “Waa nin weyn.” He is a big/important/adult man.” where “weyn” is an adjective meaning “large/important/adult”; normally we wouldn’t say: “Weyn baad tahay.” but rather “Waad weyn tahay.” meaning “You are large or adult or important.” You could say: “Nin weyn baad tahay.” = “You are a great/large or important man.”
    So if you wanted to use the verb to be “yahay” in the first sentence you could say “Ninkani miskiin buu yahay.” = “Ninkani waa miskiin.” where “buu” = the focus marker “baa” (points to what has just come before it as the object of the verb to be which follows) + the pronoun indicator “uu” = he (which reminds us that the subject is “he” (ninkani=this man), so put together “buu” = “baa” + “uu”.
    I don’t know if any of this helps but I hope it helps you with your Somali language learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this book. It’s an honor for me that you would come by my blog. I know that putting together a Somali grammar book is a labor of love–you won’t get rich off of it. I appreciate its easy availability and very practical vocabulary.

      I’m also very grateful for your explanations in your comment. I followed everything, but it will take a lot of time to assimilate into my brain.

      Did you live in Somalia? How did you decide to put this book together? How did you learn Somali?


  3. I’m always exited when I find folks interested to embark on the journey of learning another language and especially Somali as I have spent a good part of my life on this journey (along with a few other East African languages). Yes. I lived in Somalia back in the early 1980s as a refugee relief worker and that is where I met folks speaking 3 and 4 languages. I determined to learn at least one other than my native English. The only thing available then was a small manual called “Iska Wax u Qabso” that the peace corps had put together in the 60s and 70s. It wasn’t very well organized but had enough of the verb conjugation patterns and small useful greetings and phrases that helped me get a start in the language (and culture) learning along with living intensely among the people and speaking with them each day in the camps, in the town and walking back and forth. Later in NE Kenya (an ethnic Somali speaking area), where I worked/volunteered for some years as a secondary school teacher, I had a chance to work much more on learning Somali language along with the culture – If you want to help people learn and grow you have to understand their language and along with it culture and way of thinking about the world. Anyway enough about me.
    I did not write the “La Soco” book – it was originally written by Joy Carter, who was my teacher for a month at an intensive Somali course in NE Kenya, however, I have taught through it a number of times in Kenya and in Ethiopia and then now here. I also helped to put it into computer format and revised it some – so that is my connection to it.
    It is really meant to be just one tool for learning Somali language as one lives and interacts with Somali folk – which it sounds like you are doing. Your blog is very interesting and you are asking good questions. Keep it up.


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