Somali languages

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Not to be confused with Somali language.
Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen, Kenya
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: None
east2653  (East Omo–Tana (partial match))[1]

The Somali languages belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family. They are spoken as a mother tongue by ethnic Somalis in Greater Somalia and the Somali diaspora. Some neighboring populations and individuals have also adopted the languages.[2]


Somali dialects are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benaadir and Maay, which are largely mutually intelligible. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali. Benaadir (also known as Coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir coast from Adale to south of Merca, including Mogadishu and in the immediate hinterland. The Digil and Mirifle clans, collectively known as the Rahanweyn, live in the southern areas of Somalia. They speak Cushitic languages related to Standard Somali, which are sometimes described as dialects. The latter include Maay, Jiido, Dabarre, Garre and Central Tunni. Of these, Jiido is the most incomprehensible to Somali speakers. One way in which these languages differ from Somali is the lack of pharyngeal consonants; the /ɖ/ is replaced by /r/ in some positions.

Languages and dialects[edit]

Blench (2006) largely follows Lamberti (1984) in classification:[3]

In addition, Kirk (1905) reports Yibir and Midgan, spoken by the Yibir and Madhiban, respectively. Blench (2006) says, "These lects, spoken respectively by magicians and hunters among the Somali are said to differ substantially in lexicon from standard Somali. Whether this differentiation is in the nature of a code or these represent distinct languages remains unknown."


Lamberti's classification is areal, reflecting typological similarities among the Somali varieties. A more genealogically focused approach by Ehret & Ali (1984) recognizes three main groups:[4]

  • Garre-Aweer
  • Tunni-Dabarre
  • Narrow Somali
    • Maay
    • Northern-Benadir
      • North-Central
      • Ashraaf
      • Benadiir

Jiiddu in this model is relocated as not even a Somali sensu lato variety in origin, but instead as a sibling of Bayso.[4] In contrast, Garre shows quite close affinity to Aweer, a language spoken by the physically and culturally distinct Aweer people.[5] Evidence suggests that the Aweer/Boni are remnants of the early hunter-gatherer inhabitants of Eastern Africa. According to linguistic, anthropological and other data, these groups later came under the influence and adopted the Afro-Asiatic languages of the Eastern and Southern Cushitic peoples who moved into the area.[6]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "East Omo–Tana". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
  3. ^ Blench, 2006. The Afro-Asiatic Languages: Classification and Reference List (ms)
  4. ^ a b Tosco, Mauro (1994). "The Historical Reconstruction of a Southern Somali Dialect: Proto-Karre-Boni". Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika. 15: 153–209. 
  5. ^ Ethnologue - Aweer language
  6. ^ Mohamed Amin, Peter Moll (1983). Portraits of Africa. Harvill Press. p. 16. ISBN 0002726394.