Somali, Arabic and the Somali language are related, though distantly, because Arabic belongs to the Semitic branch and Somali to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic/Hamito-Semitic family. This does not mean that the Somalis are Arabs, and as a matter of fact the membership of Somalia in the League of Arab States is based on a political decision rather than on linguistic relationship. The contacts between Arabic and Somali are as old as the cultural contacts that culminated in the Islamization of the Somali people centuries ago. There is no precise dating, but more than one thousand years of contact is a safe guess. It is well known that Arabic was not only the language of religion but also the second language of culture in the 19th and 20th centuries. When Somalia regained independence in 1960, Arabic was recognized as one of the official languages, together with Italian and English. Some people advocated the use of Arabic script for Somali, but the Latin script was introduced officially on October 21, 1972. Note that in the current Somali writing system ʿayn is spelled as c, as in the Arabic name ʿAlī, which is spelled Cali; the retroflex /d̢/ is spelled as dh; uvular /x/ is spelled kh; pharyngeal /ḥ/ is spelled as x; and the glottal stop is spelled as an apostrophe; long vowels are doubled in writing.

A large number of Somalis have only limited, sometimes very basic, knowledge of Arabic, while many others are quite fluent in Literary Arabic and/or a variety of spoken dialects. The influence of spoken varieties of Arabic, mainly the coastal dialects of Yemen and Oman, and of Literary Arabic (represented by the Qurʾān and some theological and legal writings known in Somalia) has continued over a long period of time in Somali. Due, however, to the considerable grammatical differences between the two languages (in spite of some evident inherited features they have in common, such as the few Somali prefix-conjugated verbs, which are inflected in much the same way as in Arabic, e.g. ya-qaan ‘he knows’, ta-qaan ‘you know’, na-qaan ‘we know’, etc.), this influence has been limited on the morphological, syntactic, and stylistic levels. On the other hand, the phonological systems of Somali and Arabic show several similarities, and because of the presence in Somali of such consonants as /ʿ/, /h/, /ḥ/, /x/, /q/, /ʾ/, as well as the glide /w/ and long vowels, lexical influence was facilitated phonetically.

Lexical borrowing has been quite considerable, and this has resulted in a large number of Arabic loanwords in Somali, which is one of the languages with a relatively high number of Arabic loanwords. Soravia (1994) found 1,436 Arabic loanwords in the best Somali dictionary available (Agostini a.o. 1985), which contains approximately thirty thousand lemmas. Many of the Arabic loanwords, the majority of which are nouns, are frequently used. It must be emphasized that some Arabic loanwords may have been more or less ephemeral because some of them, found by Zaborski (1967:122) in older sources, are absent in Agostini a.o. (1985). The process of lexical borrowing from Arabic continues to be strong, but its extent has not yet been investigated.

It seems that the bulk of the loanwords were taken from Literary Arabic, although with some phonetic and phonological features of different Arabic dialects. The intermediaries were in most cases Somali men, learned in Islam, so that the majority of loanwords do not betray a pure dialect character. As far as the semantics of the loans is concerned, there are both words borrowed out of practical necessity and prestige loans; sometimes, the reason for borrowing is rather obscure.

Arabic emphatic /ḍ/ usually corresponds with Somali /d/, but sometimes with Somali /l/, e.g. ḍaʿīf ‘weak, ill’ > Somali laciif/daciif; rāḍī ‘pleased’ > Somali raalli; ḍamān ‘warranty’ > Somali dammaan/lammaan; qāḍī ‘judge’ > Somali qaalli/qaaddi. Very seldom, Arabic /ḍ/ corresponds with Somali retroflex /dh/, e.g. waḍaf ‘sling, catapult’ > wadhaf (Abraham 1962:246; waraf in Agostini a.o. 1985). These different renderings of Arabic /ḍ/ indicate that the words concerned derive from different Arabic dialects, with different pronunciation of this consonant ( ḍād ), some regional types of Arabic realizing this phoneme with a lateral feature. Idiosyncratic is ḍarūra ‘necessity’ > naruuro ‘necessity’, due to dissimilation. Arabic emphatic /ṭ/ usually corresponds with Somali /d/, e.g. xuṭba ‘sermon’ > khudbad ‘speech, sermon’, but there are also examples in which it is rendered by Somali /t/, e.g. ʿaṭr ‘perfume’ > catar. Arabic emphatic /ḏ̣/ is rendered as /d/, e.g. ḏ̣ālim ‘unjust, evil’ > daalin (with -m > -n) ‘dishonest’, and Arabic emphatic /ṣ/ is rendered as Somali /s/, e.g. ṣarāḥa ‘sincerity’ > saraaxad.

Original Arabic interdental /t̲/ is rendered either by Somali /s/ or /t/; there are, for instance, variants salaasa and talaado ‘Tuesday’ (< Arabic t̲alāt̲a ‘three’, with the second /t̲/ rendered by Somali /d/!); the merging of original /t̲/ with either /s/ or /t/ is already found in several Arabic dialects. Arabic interdental /ḏ/ is rendered in Somali by /d/, e.g. ḏubāla ‘wick’ > dubaalad.

Interestingly, although Arabic /s/ usually corresponds with Somali /s/, there are some cases in which it corresponds with Somali /sh/, and Arabic /š/ is realized usually as /sh/, but there are some of examples of a correspondence with Somali /s/, e.g. kīs ‘bag, purse’ > Somali kiish/kiis. Arabic /z/ is generally rendered by Somali /s/, e.g. wazīr ‘minister’ > wasiir.

Uvular /x/ occurs in Somali almost exclusively in Arabic loanwords (see Agostini a.o. 1985:363–367). This phoneme may have been borrowed from Arabic; it sometimes inter-changes with Somali /q/ and /k/, e.g. maxzin ‘store, magazine’ > maqsin; ʾaxḍar ‘green’ > akhdar/akhtar/aktar; maxlūq ‘creature’ > makluuq. Somali /q/ also renders both Arabic /q/ and /ġ/, e.g. ġaniyy ‘rich’ > qani, but there are some cases where, following Bedouin dialects of Arabic, Arabic /q/ is rendered in Somali as /g/, e.g. milʿaqa ‘spoon’ > maclagad/macalgad; sometimes, it is rendered by /k/, e.g. qism ‘subdivision’ > kasmo, and /kh/, e.g. ṣandūq ‘box, case’ > santuukh; baqqāl ‘greengrocer’ > bakhaar ‘shop’, while /ġ/ is sometimes rendered by /kh/, e.g. maġrib ‘sunset’ > makhrib; ṣiyāġa ‘goldsmithing’ > siyaakhad ‘a piece of jewelry’. Arabic /k/ is rendered as /k/ in initial and medial position but as /g/ in final position and sometimes medially, e.g. kiḏb ‘lie’ > kidib; šukr ‘thanks’ > shugri; šarīk ‘companion’ > shariig; there are also cases of Arabic /k/ > /q/ or even /kh/, e.g. sakrān ‘drunk’ > saqraan/sakhraan/sarqaan.

Arabic /j/ is usually rendered in Somali as /j/, but in a total of nine loanwords it corresponds with /g/ (Callegari 1987–1988:458–459), possibly indicating Cairene Arabic origin. This is, however, not quite certain since the loans in question are semantically marginal, and it is difficult to say why they would have been borrowed precisely from Cairene Arabic. Sometimes, doublets may indicate origin from different dialects and different chronology, e.g. jayš ‘army’ > gaas ‘a division of soldiers’ and jeysh ‘army’. There are very few cases of Arabic /j/ corresponding with /y/, e.g. jār ‘neighbor’ > yaar; dajāj ‘poultry’ > diyaaj/diyaad, which shows its origin from some Yemeni, Omani, orGulf Arabic dialect, while there is also digaag. Very rarely, Arabic /j/ is rendered as Somali /sh/,e.g. mujarrab ‘tentative’ > sharrib; xarāj ‘land tax’ > kharash ‘expenditure’, but this is rather an internal Somali change (viz. devoicing), conditioned by -r(r)-, which causes dissimilation. There is also ḥajj ‘pilgrimage’ > xaj/xad and sirāj ‘lamp, lantern’ > siraaj/siraad.

Sometimes Arabic /l/ > /r/, e.g. wālid ‘father’ > waarid. There are also some cases of /m/ > /b/, e.g. zamān ‘time’ > saman/samaan/saben/sabaan.

Consonant clusters are realized in Somali with an anaptyctic vowel, and in monosyllabic words final gemination is lost. Sometimes, there is metathesis, e.g. ʾibra(t) ‘needle’ > irbad; qalʿa(t) ‘fortress’ > qalcad/qalco or calqad; jins ‘sort, species, genus’ > jinsi/sinji ‘gender, race’; laʿna(t) ‘curse’ > lacanad/lacnad/nacallad/nacdal; bunduq(iyya) ‘shotgun, rifle’ > dumbuq as well as bunduq/buntuq; ʿafrīt/ʿifrīt ‘female evil spirit’ > cifriid/cirfiid ‘evil spirit’.

As far as morphological interference is concerned, Arabic feminine singular -a(t) is usually preserved in Somali, e.g. muʿallim/muʿallima ‘male/female teacher’ > macallin/macallim-ad, although in some cases it is only represented by the -o allomorph, e.g. barak-o ‘blessing’, but baraka-ad-ii ‘the blessing’. Gender distinction in nominals is preserved in the singular, although there are some exceptions, e.g. sana(t) ‘year’ > sanad/sannad, which can be either feminine or masculine (Agostini a.o. 1985:535, pace Soravia 1994). According to the rules of Somali grammar, though, the gender changes in the plural, a process known as ‘gender polarization’, e.g. dār ‘house’ > daar-ta ‘the house [made of stone; fem.]’, daar-o-ha ‘houses’ [masc.]; al-bāb ‘the door’ > albaab-ka ‘the door [masc.]’, albaabb-o-ta ‘the doors [fem.]’; muʾallif ‘writer, author’ > allife ‘the writer, author [masc.]’, allifaad/alifid ‘the female writer, author’ [fem. sg.], allif-a-yaal ‘male authors [fem.]’, but the plural dukaan-la-yaal (< Arabic dukkān ‘shop’) is either masculine or feminine. Some Arabic internal plurals have been preserved, sometimes with an additional Somali plural ending, e.g. tājir/tujjār ‘merchant’ > taajir ‘rich man, merchant’, plural tujaariin or taajirro. Sometimes, Arabic internal plurals have been reinterpreted as singular forms, e.g. yawm/ʾayyām ‘day’ > ayaan [sg.]; masjid/masājid ‘mosque’ > masaajid [sg.]. Monosyllabic nouns follow the rules of Somali grammar, i.e., they make their plural forms with partial reduplication, e.g. ṣawt ‘voice’ > sawd, pl. sawdad; fāʾs ‘axe’ > faash, pl. faashash. Sometimes, nouns have been borrowed together with the Arabic definite article, e.g. albaab-jooge ‘doorman’ (Arabic al-bāb ‘the door’); alleyl ‘night’ (Arabic al-layl ‘the night’), adduun/addunyo/duunyo ‘world’ (Arabic ad-dunyā ‘the world’). There are also Somali nouns derived with Somali suffixes from Arabic nominals, e.g. ʿāqil ‘intelligent’ > caaqil: caaqil-ni-mo ‘intelligence’; ʾamīr ‘emir’ > ammir: ammir-ni-mo ‘emirate’; dukkān ‘shop’ > dukaan: dukaan-le ‘shop owner’.

With verbs, Somali derivational suffixes can be used, e.g. bāraka ‘to bless’ > barakee ‘to bless’, barak-so (with a ‘causative’ suffix of Afro-Asiatic origin, cf. -s- in Arabic i-s-tafʿala) ‘to give charity in the hope of gaining God's favor’. There are some examples of Arabic participles and verbal nouns (maṣdars) used as verbs, e.g. mamnūʿ ‘forbidden’ > mamnuuc ‘to forbid’; muquur ‘to dive’ (< Arabic ġāra ‘to sink, go down, penetrate into'?); musāfir ‘traveler’ > masaafiri ‘to expel’; suʾāl ‘question’ > suʾaal ‘to ask’; ṭālib ‘student; seeking’ > daalib ‘male student’ (daalib-id ‘female student’) and ‘to seek’; ḥayāt ‘life’ > xayaad ‘to live’; imtiḥān ‘examination’ > imtixaan ‘to examine’; istiʿmār ‘colonization’ > isticmaar-so ‘to administer a country as a colony’; ʾislām ‘surrendering to God; Islam’ > islaan ‘to become a Muslim’; ʿāfiya ‘health’ > caafimaad ‘to recover health’, caafimaad-san ‘to be in good health’; al-ḥamdu lillāhi ‘praise the Lord’ > alxamdulillay-so ‘to thank God’. Rather idiosyncratic is akhri ‘to read’, which may go back to the Arabic imperative (Callegari 1987–1988:448) or may be a reinterpretation of an Arabic causative ʾaqraʾa (cf. Somali aqbal ‘to accept’).

Some Arabic idioms and genitive constructions functioning as compound words have been borrowed, e.g. bayt al-māʾ ‘w.c.’ > beytelmay; maʿa s-salāma ‘farewell!’ > macasalaamo ‘farewell’, also used as a verb macasalaamee ‘to say goodbye’.

Andrzej Zaborski (University of Cracow)

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