Somali Writing System

An ancient script seems to have been used to write Somali. Since then a number of writing systems have been used for transcribing the language. Of these, the Somali Latin alphabet is the most widely-used, and has been the official writing script in Somalia since the government of former President of Somalia Mohamed Siad Barre formally introduced it in October 1972. The script was developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed specifically for the Somali language, and uses all letters of the English Latin alphabet except pv and z.

This alphabet has 21 consonants and 5 vowels. There are no diacritics or other special characters except the use of the apostrophe for the glottal stop, which is not word-initial. There are three consonant digraphs: DH, KH and SH. Tone is not marked; front and back vowels are not distinguished. Capital letters are used at the beginning of a sentence and for proper names.

Read Also: Standardization of Somali

Starting from 1960, debate about which writing system to use for transcribing the Somali language dragged on for nine years. No fewer than a dozen linguists were tasked with developing a workable script. Eventually, Shire Jama Ahmed’s refined Somali Latin script was adopted, an alphabet which he used to publish pamphlets and small Af Soomaali drillbooks in his own printing press.

Ahmed argued that even though most people were in favor of using the Arabic script, it was more practical to use Latin primarily due to its simplicity, the fact that it lent itself well to writing Somali since it could cope with all of the sounds in the language, and the already widespread existence of machines and typewriters designed for its use.

Besides Ahmed’s Latin script, other orthographies that have been used for centuries for writing Somali include the long-established Arabic script and Wadaad’s writing. Indigenous writing systems developed in the twentieth century include the Osmanya, Borama and Kaddare scripts, which were invented by Osman Yusuf Kenadid, Sheikh Abdurahman Sheikh Nuur and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kaddare, respectively.

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