The Role of Broadcasting in the
Development of Somali Language
Ahmed Haybe (Ahmed
The year 1943 is important for the cultural history of Somali
society. It was the first time regular broadcasts were introduced
from Hargeisa, by the British Military Administration. Somalis were
pleased to have a broadcasting station, since they were in great
need to know what was going around them. Before that time Somalis
knew little about the affairs of the rest of the world.
World news used to
reach Somalis by word of mouth from soldiers who served abroad,
religious men from the centres of Islam, migrant workers, and
sailors. The chieftains, poets and elders in the community on their
arrival usually welcomed these people. After the traveler had
rested and had some food, it was usual to meet the leading figures
of the society. Then he would talk about his travels. Finally,
questions of importance would be asked, such as the price of food,
clothes, and peace in the world.
The Somali poets
were prominent figures in the community, having high status. Poets
were very keen to meet foreigners, travelers, etc. Therefore, it is
certain that they would gain some general knowledge of the outside
world. The main themes of early Somali poems were confined to local
affairs, although they did not lack poetical imagination.
Thus, when the
great Somali poet, Omar Hussein Gorse, in a poem composed some time
before the Second World War, tries to reconcile a particular tribe
to some territorial losses, he brings the consoling thought that
such things have happened before, even to the most mighty men of
this world: Witness the defeat of the Germans by the British in
Tanzania in the First World War, and the difficulties in which some
notables in Zanzibar apparently found themselves.
Taboora iyo dhulkii, canabku laallaaday
waa horaa, cawda loo rogay e
nashiro Keysarkii, cadhada waallaa ye
cuqaashii fadhiday, carare qaarkood e
Daar Cajaabiyo lahaa, kama casheeyaan e
land of Tabora, and the country of pendent grapes
The Germans who
had developed them were sent packing
Emperor no longer hoists his flag there
Of the chiefs who
dwelt in Zanzibar, some made their escape
who owned the House of Wonders no longer sup there
(Andrzejewski, 1971a, p.264)
The dialect type
which Andrzejewski and Lewis called “Common Somali” had attained a
high status over other dialects. It has been recognised as mutually
intelligible within the Somali speaking communities, Somali
Democratic Republic, Western Somali (Ogaden), French Somaliland
(Djibouti) and Northern- Eastern Province of Kenya. Moreover, in
most towns, even outside these areas, large sections of the
population speak common Somali, as do Somali communities settled in
Aden, Tanzania and Great Britain.
The radio stations
that broadcast Somali used common Somali in their bulletins,
commentaries and announcements. These stations include Mogadishu,
Hargeisa, Djibouti, Nairobi and Addis Abeba and also Cairo, London,
Moscow, and Rome. In that respect, when the new script was
introduced in the republic, the adaptation of Common Somali as the
accepted Standard Somali facilitated the wide diffusion of the
difficulty lay almost in the field of vocabulary, which was
deficient in words connected with modern life. When it came to
modern life, the broadcasters could depend on loan words either from
English or Arabic. But this would have placed a heavy burden on the
listener’s memory and would have interfered with the understanding
of what was said. This would have resulted in humiliation for the
Somalis, if they accepted depending, to some extent, on loan words;
because Somalis is the land of great poets, story-tellers and
In the sphere of
vocabulary innovations, the radio has played an outstanding role.
Somali broadcasters took special pride in preserving the purity of
the language. Even before the Revolution and the advent of written
Somali, Somali broadcasters pioneered in expressing new concepts and
ideas while avoiding foreign borrowings as far as possible. This
reflects the conscience and the patriotism of the Somali
For a linguist,
their actual methods of word-coining presents a well-known pattern,
much the same as found in many neologisms introduced in German,
Arabic or Polish in the first half of the twentieth century. To
illustrate this point a selection of newly coined words and phrases
is listed below: they are capitalized so that they can be
distinguished from the older, ordinary words given for comparison.
AFGEMBI, coup d’etat; afgembi, turning ( a vessel)
BARWAAQASOORAN, commonwealth; barwaaqo, prosperity, good reason la sooran, to share (profits and
CAGAFCAGAF, tractor; cagafcagaf, an onomatopoeic word suggesting a heavy and noisy
XOOGGA DALKA, the
national army; xoog, strength, force, ga (definite article), dal,
country, ka (definite article).
satellite; spacecraft, dayax, moon, gacan, hand, eed (a genitive
suffix suggesting here the meaning of hand made).
GOOSATO, secessionists; gooso, to cut off for oneself, to (nominal suffix).
the national anthem; hees, song, ta (definite article), calan, flag
(Ar.), ka (definite article).
advertisement; u = i + u, i, me u, for, dheh, say, announce
(imperative form of the verb yidhi, to say).
dictator; keli, being alone, gi, his, taliye, person who gives
advice or rules.
MIDABKALASOOC, racial discrimination; midab, colour, kala, apart, sooc, to
separate, to select (often applied to domestic animals).
LA WAREEG, to
take over, to nationalize; la, with, wareeg, to turn around, to move
QIIQA ILMADA KEENA, tear gas; qiiq, smoke, a (definite article) ilma, tear,
da (definite article), keena, which brings (dependent form of the
verb keen, to bring).
to apply full anaesthetics; suuxi, to cause to lose consciousness,
to cause to faint (rare), suux, to lose consciousness, to faint.
URURKA SHAQAALAHA, trade union; urur, group, cluster,
(definite article), shaqaale,
workers (Ar.) ha
developing countries; waddanna,
da (definite article), soo,
centre of attention),
koraya, which are
climbing, which are
(dependent form of the verb
kor; to climb, )