March 20, 2011

The Role of Broadcasting in the Development of Somali Language

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.

Carradii Taboora iyo dhulkii, canabku laallaaday
Jarmalkii cammiray waa horaa, cawda loo rogay e
Calankii ma nashiro Keysarkii, cadhada waallaa ye
Sinjibaar cuqaashii fadhiday, carare qaarkood e
Raggii Daar Cajaabiyo lahaa, kama casheeyaan e

From the land of Tabora, and the country of pendent grapes
The Germans who had developed them were sent packing
The quick-tempered Emperor no longer hoists his flag there
Of the chiefs who dwelt in Zanzibar, some made their escape
The men 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 script.

The broadcaster 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 preachers.

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 broadcasters.

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)
upside down.

BARWAAQASOORAN, commonwealth; barwaaqo, prosperity, good reason la sooran, to share (profits and losses) with.

CAGAFCAGAF, tractor; cagafcagaf, an onomatopoeic word suggesting a heavy and noisy movement.

XOOGGA DALKA, the national army; xoog, strength, force, ga (definite article), dal, country, ka (definite article).

DAYAXGACMEED artificial 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).

HEESTA CALANKA, the national anthem; hees, song, ta (definite article), calan, flag (Ar.), ka (definite article).

IIDHEH, advertisement; u = i + u, i, me u, for, dheh, say, announce (imperative form of the verb yidhi, to say).

KELIGITALIYE, 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 over.

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).

SUUXI, 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,
pleiades, ka (definite article), shaqaale,
workers (Ar.) ha (definite article).

KORAYA, developing countries; waddanna,
countries (Ar.), da (definite article), soo,
towards (the centre of attention),
koraya, which are climbing, which are
going up (dependent form of the verb
kor; to climb, )
(Andrzejewiski, 1971a, p.266-270).

Ahmed Haybe (Ahmed Dawlo)


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