- Languages of Somalia
The number of different languages spoken in Somalia is very small in comparison with most African countries. The majority of Somali nationals (including persons of non-Somali origin) speak the
Somali is the official language of
Somalia. The standard language, also called Common Somali, is thought to be based on a variation spoken in the Northern region of the country. Somali is spoken throughout the country. It is the language featured in books, on television and in the marketplace.
Af-Maay, a dialect of Somali, is confined mainly to the southwest.
The Somali language belongs to the East Cushitic branch of the larger
Arabic is widely spoken in Somalia in religion, commerce and education. Many Somalis also speak English, especially in the former British
protectorateof Somalilandin the northwestern part of the country. Italian is also spoken, but mostly among older generations of Somalis.
Languages in education and government
"See also: The language and literacy issue"
In the pre-revolutionary era, English became dominant in the school system and in government, which caused some conflict between elites from northern and southern Somalia. However, the overarching issue was the development of a socio-economic stratum based on mastery of a foreign language. The relatively small proportion of Somalis (less than 10 percent) with a grasp of such a language--preferably English--had access to government positions and the few managerial or technical jobs in modern private enterprises. Such persons became increasingly isolated from their non-literate Somali-speaking brethren, but because the secondary schools and most government posts were in urban areas the socio-economic and linguistic distinction was in large part a rural-urban one. To some extent, it was also a north-south distinction because those educated in the Italian system and even in Italian universities found it increasingly difficult to reach senior government levels.
Even before the 1969 revolution, Somalis had become aware of social stratification and the growing distance, based on language and literacy differences, between ordinary Somalis and those in government. The 1972 decision to designate an official Somali Latin script and require its use in government demolished the language barrier and an important obstacle to rapid literacy growth.
In the years following the institution of the Somali Latin script, Somali officials were required to learn the orthography and attempts were made to inculcate mass literacy--in 1973 among urban and rural sedentary Somalis, and in 1974-75 among
nomads. Although a few texts existed in the new script before 1973, in most cases new books were prepared presenting the government's perspective on Somali history and development. Somali scholars also succeeded in developing a vocabulary to deal with a range of subjects from mathematics and physics to administration and ideology.
By the late 1970s, sufficient Somali materials were available to permit the language to be the medium of instruction at all school levels below the university. Arabic was taught to all students, beginning at the elementary level and continuing into the secondary phase.
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=SO "Ethnologue" report on "Languages of Somalia"]
* [http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/afrique/somalie.htm "L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde", "Somalie"]
* [http://www.panafril10n.org/wikidoc/pmwiki.php/PanAfrLoc/Somalia PanAfriL10n page on Somalia]
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