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use the Geez or Arabic alphabet. Here is the Latin alphabet for the common Somali (Mahatiri):

*to be noted the absence of consonants P, V, Z

Note: The consonant clusters C, DH, KH, Q and X are transliterated sounds that can be found in Semitic and other Cushitic languages, and are not found in English.

Somali has grammatical categories which are not found in many other languages; for example, the so-called focus word (focalization). It shows how certain words in the formation of the sentence can be used to indicate where the interest of the speakers lies. For instance, the words baa, ayaa, and waxaa put the focus on nouns and noun phrases as in: John baa baxay – (it’s JOHN who went out, JOHN, undertand?), John ayaa baxay - John (ayaa) went out (same as above), and Waxaa baxay John – (John WENT OUT. He WENT OUT, imagine!). Thus, the presence of one of these three words emphasizes what the speakers want to attract his interlocutor’s attention on. Similarly, the word waa puts the focus on verbs and phrasal verbs. For example: John waa baxay – (John WENT OUT. How can ANYONE GO OUT?). The presence of waa indicates that the action expressed by the verb is matter of concern.

Now let me introduce you to the private world of Somali body-language. Somalis often use sweeping hand and arm gestures to dramatize speech. Many ideas are expressed through specific hand gestures, and here are some of them:

  • A swift twist of the open hand means "nothing" or "no".

  • Snapping fingers may mean "long ago" or and "so on"

  • A thumb under the chin indicates "fullness".

  • It is impolite to point the sole of one's foot or shoe at another person.

  • It is impolite to use the index finger to call somebody; that gesture is used for

calling dogs.

  • The sign of "thumbs up" is considered obscene.

As the Somalia is culturally rich in oral tradition, and the Somali language did not “exist” in a written form until 1972, the Somali people have acquired and cultivated the art of memorizing and speaking for long hours extemporaneously, not to mention being extremely keen listeners and learners.


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