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Learn Somali Language: Introductions

Transforming access to Somali language education

This lesson is a presentation of one of my Somali grammar lessons. Learning grammar offers learners the means for potentially limitless linguistic creativity. And for this reason alone, I feel it’s important to learn as much one can.

The lesson was conducted via email between some of my students and myself (the teacher). Both the format and the content of each lesson was suggested by the students. The students would either submit a text they had written in Somali or they would submit texts from novels or news articles and ask questions regarding the grammatical structure.

Although, many aspects of Somali grammar, vocabulary, and culture are dealt with in each lesson, special emphasis is placed upon basic Somali grammar, i.e., the parts of speech. Furthermore, the focus of these lessons was not to correct every single mistake but only correcting the major mistakes which may seriously hamper understanding. 

Student submitted text and questions are in red coloured font.

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

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Student-submitted text:

Waxaan ku qorayaa warqad gaaban. Ugu horeya, waxaan rabaa inaan ku sheegaa wax yar ku saabsan nafteyda. Hadda waxaan ku noolaa Bristol , laakiin Faransiis waan ku dhaashay. Qoyskaaga Rushka iska tagnay 1993. Hadda magalladeyda waxaa jiraa qof badan oo Somalia ka timid. Sidaas darteed waxaan rabaa inaan ku barto wax yar af-somali. Hadda shaqeynayaa librariga. Adiguna? Wax yar ii qori kartaa naftaada?

Teacher’s Translation of student-submitted text:

I am writing a short letter to you. Firstly, I would like to tell you something (little) about myself. Now I live in Bristol, but I was born in France. My family left France in 1993. Right now, there are many Somalis living in the city. So for that (reason) I want to learn a little Somali. Now I work in a library. And you? Can you write a little about yourself?

1. Well done. Good attempt. I understood exactly what you meant and native Somali speakers would have no problem understanding your paragraph either.

2. Waxaan ku qorayaa warqad gaaban.

Add the word soo which indicates that the letter is coming from you. 

Note that there is a preposition ‘u – to’ added to the pronoun ‘ku – you’ I am writing to you… Adding the pronoun and  preposition together we get  ku + u = kuu.

So the correct form would be

‘Waxaan kuu soo qorayaa warqad gaaban..’

3. Ugu horeya is very close. You could say ugu horeynta (firstly) as it’s correct. But, the majority of Somalis prefer to use ‘marka hore‘ firstly, and then ‘marka xiga’ ‘next’

4. “…waxaan rabaa inaan ku sheegaa wax yar ku saabsan nafteyda.”

Grammatically speaking, the correct sentence is …waxaan rabaa inaan wax kaaga sheego noloshayda.
a. ‘kaaga’ is a pronoun plus a pre-verbal prepositional cluster
b. ‘kaaga’ is made up of the following parts:

kaaga – ku + kaga,

when broken down, it is made up of the following

ku you
ka about
ga refers to the noun (in this instance it is ‘noloshayda’)

5. …waxaan rabaa inaan wax kaaga sheego noloshayda. OK. You used the general present verb form ‘sheegaa’ but the correct form is ‘sheego’? So, why is it sheego instead of sheegaa?

The infinitve of declension 1 verbs is as follows:

sheeg – sheego
hadal – hadlo
keen – keeno

Use the infinitve verb form of the verb sheeg, e.g., ‘...waxaan rabaa inaan wax kaaga sheego noloshayda.’, e.g., Waxaan rabaa inaan tego, inaan sameeyo, inaan arko, inaan qoro, etc

6. **Hadda waxaan ku noolaa Bristol

Excellent attempt. You also used the correct root verb ‘nool’. The only problem is with the verb ending of ‘nool’ which you wrote as ‘aa’.

The mix-up is due to the use of the general present tense verb ending of most Somali verb conjugations with an adjectival-verb. For example,

Waan tegay. I went
Waan tegaa I go

Waan arkay. I saw.
Waan arkaa I see

But the problem is that Nool is an adjectival-verb. For example,

Waxaan ku noolahay Bristol.   I live in Bristol (present tense)
Waxaan ku noolaa Bristol.   I lived in Bristol (past tense)
Waxaan ku nooli jiray Bristol.   I used to live in Bristol (past tense)
Kuma nooli Bristol.   I don’t live in Bristol (present negative tense)
Kuma noolayn Bristol I didn’t live in Bristol (past negative tense)

Thus, the correct form is:

Waxaan ku noolahay Bristol.  I live in Bristol.

...laakiin Faransiis waan ku dhaashay

This would be ‘…laakiin Faransiiska waan ku dhashay’

Add the definite article ‘ka’ onto the end of ‘faransiis’, faransiis + ka = faransiiska

Names of countries tend to have the definite article attached to them. For example,

dalka faransiiska = France
af faransiis/faransiiska = French language
Nin faransiis ah = A French man

Qoyskaaga Faransiiska iska tagnay 1993

Qoyskaaga means ‘your family’ and I think you just made a simple typing error. Qoyskayga means ‘my family’

2. add ‘-kii’ on to the end of past years and add ‘-ka’ onto future years, e.g., ‘Waxaan doonaya inaan Faransiiska tago sannadka 2020-ka’

So you could say,

Qoyskayga waxaannu tagnay Faransiiska 1993-kii.

The verb ‘tag’ means we went to and does not imply if you settled there or not. It may be better to say, we moved to ‘ku guurnay’

Qoyskayga waxaannu ku guurnay Faransiiska 1993-kii.

Hadda magalladeyda waxaa jiraa qof badan oo Somalia ka timid.

1. Good attempt. The correct spelling of ‘my city’ is magaaladayda.

2. ‘jira’ is generally if a person is in a specific place , e.g. a room, or in a car. E.g, Maryan suuliga bay ku jirta. But for city or country etc you would use the adjectival-verb ‘deggen’ or ‘ku nool’ – to live/reside (in a place).

Hadda waxa magaaladayda ku nool dad badan oo Soomaaliya ka yimid.

3. ‘Qof’ is a single person. So, use dad = people instead
4. ‘ka timid’, because dad is a masculine noun, it has to agree with a masc. verb = yimid instead of ‘timid’

Sidaas darteed waxaan rabaa inaan ku barto wax yar af-somali.

Excellent! This is a difficult sentence to get grammatically correct but you’ve nailed it!

A slight improvement would be to add the word ‘yar’. 

1. Sidaas darteed waxaan rabaa inaan wax yar ka barto af-Soomaali.

2. ‘ku’ is preposition ‘to’ or ‘with’ or ‘in’ but ‘ka’ = from is correct.

Hadda shaqeynayaa librariga.

Good attempt. And your sentence is perfectly understandable. Have a look at this:

1. Hadda waxaan ka shaqeeya libreeri ama libreeri baan ka shaqeeyaa.

2. shaqeya is correct verb tense because your work is in the general present tense = I work in a libray as opposed to shaqeynaya = I am working in a library.

3. librariGA = remove the definite article, e.g. in English we would say, ‘I work in a libray’ NOT I’m working in the library.’

Adiguna? Wax yar ii qori kartaa naftaada?

Yes. Very good! I would tweak this every so slightly. Look at this:

1. Wax yar ma iiga qori kartaa naftaada?

2. ‘iiga’ is a cluster of pronoun plus a pre-verbal preposition made up of the following:

i for
i me
ga about

Excellent attempt overall. Well done!

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