Somali - Af-Soomaali

1.  Classification / Classification

Somali belongs to the East Cushitic branch of Cushitic. (Webbook)

Ethnologue lists the classification as: Afro-Asiatic, Cushitic, East, Somali

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken in Somalia, the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, eastern and northeastern Kenya, and southern Djibouti. (Webbook)

Outside of Africa there are notable communities in Finland, Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Yemen. (Ethnologue)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to Ethnologue:

  • 7,784,434 in Somalia (2000 WCD)
  • 3,334,113 in Ethiopia (2000 WCD)
  • 420,354 in Kenya (2000 WCD)
  • 291,207 in Djibouti (2000 WCD)
  • Population total all countries: 12,653,480

95,572 second-language speakers of Somali in Ethiopia (Ethnologue)

Wikipedia gives the figure of 15-25 million.

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

There are three mutually intelligible language clusters of Somali (Johnson, personal communication, 1983):

  • Common or Northern;
  • Central or Raxan-Weyn;
  • Benaadir or coastal.

However, according to Saeed (Central Somali: a grammatical outline, 1982), the central dialect series is not mutually intelligible with Benadir or Common Somali. Many materials have previously been prepared in Common Somali, but the Mogadishu variety appears to be slowly becoming the standard. For further information on the Somali dialects in Kenya, see Heine (1980). (Webbook)

Northern Somali, Benaadir, Af-Ashraaf (Ashraaf). Northern Somali is the basis for Standard Somali. It is readily intelligible to speakers of Benaadir Somali, but difficult or unintelligible to most Maay and Digil speakers. (Ethnologue)

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Somali is the national language of Somalia, where it is used in the schools, government, and daily commerce. There is a Somali daily newspaper in Mogadishu, Xiddigta Oktoobar. Somali is heard on various national and international radio stations, all using Common Somali. (Webbook) [This information is dated; how has usage evolved in recent years?]

It is apparently used as a local official language in parts of Ethiopia.

Literacy rates (according to Ethnologue, accessed 2007):

  • Somalia
    • L1: ?
    • L2: 25% in cities, 10% rural
  • Ethiopia
    • L1: ?
    • L2: 7.3%
  • Kenya
    • L1: below 1%
    • L2: among Somali, 15% to 25%; Ogaadeen, 1%

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

A Romanized orthography for Somali was adopted as the only official one in 1972, replacing a variety of older orthographies. (Webbook)

The Osmanya script is little used. It was encoded in Unicode in 2003.

The Omniglot page on Somali discusses the writing systems used for Somali:

Information about Somali alphabets (in Somali) [links from Omniglot]:

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

a) Latin

The letters and digraphs of the Somali Latin alphabet in its alphabetical order (from Wikipedia):
' b t j x kh d r s sh dh c g f q k l m n w h y a e i o u

See also:

A sample text is shown on the "Language Museum" site:

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Standard fonts with ASCII characters suffice for Somali Latin transcription.

A page with access to Unicode fonts for Osmanya is at

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

A keyboard layout has been proposed (August 2006). A PDF file explaining it, and the keyboard driver can be downloaded at

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

La dislocation de l'état somalien en 1991 a occasionné l'eclatement de la société somalienne et des différentes structures (écoles, journaux, radio, etc.). La partie Nord du pays s'est autoproclamée indépendante. Tous ces facteurs sont necéssaires pour comprendre l'appropriation des TIC de la société somalienne. Les TIC ont constitué le facteur de liaison entre les différents camps de réfugiés, la diaspora et ceux qui sont resté au pays. De nombreux journaux d'informations (le plus souvent géographiquement delimités) ont fait leurs apparitions.


Des journaux d'informations générales avec plus de moyens ont aussi peu à peu fait leur apparition.

Examples of websites with content in Somali:

Wikipedia in Somali at (over 3500 content pages as of 11-2015)

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

There is a project to localise a free Somali language wordprocessor to be called "Ubbo." Expected release: late November 2006. [need update]

There is a project to translate Debian (Linux) Installer in Somali (but apparently nothing has been done as of 1/2007):

An older localized Somali wordprocessor (with spell-check & English-Somali translator) called Hikaadiye was marketed by SomiTek beginning in the late 1990s. Not aware of newer versions or other localisation efforts.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

  • ISO 639-1: so
  • ISO 639-2: som
  • ISO 639-3: som

7.6  Other / Autre

Google has a version localized in Somali:

Online dictionaries:

Proverbs in Somali

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

Jama Jama Musse

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

"Somali" (TLT, Penn State Univ.)

9.  Comments / Remarques

This language could be a priority for localisation given past work (notably by SomiTek) and current efforts.

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, (page on "Somali," )

Omniglot, "Somali (af Soomaali),"

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Somali,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language,"

Wikipedia, "Af-Somaali,"

______, "Somali,"

______, "Somali language,"

______, "Somali languages,"

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Categories: Languages, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Northern Kenya