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What languages are spoken in Somalia?

Located on the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, on the east coast of the African continent, Somalia seems isolated from the rest of the world. Colonization, civil war, migratory crises… The suffering country has had a tumultuous past and is struggling to emerge from its misery. Fragmented, this African state has official, foreign and dialectal languages on its territory. So what languages are spoken in Somalia? We explain it all to you.

Languages spoken in Somalia: focus on the official languages

The official language is Somali, spoken by the Somali people (95% majority ethnic group). It is a language of Afro-Asian origin belonging to the family of Cushitic languages, such as Afar and Saho. Somalia’s official language sets it apart from other African states. Why is this so? Because Somali is written in the Latin alphabet and not Arabic. A linguistic factor that accentuates the geographical isolation of the country.

Very close behind is another national and official language: Arabic. This is explained by many historical facts that unite Somalia to the Arab world. Not to mention that Islam is the most practiced religion in Somalia.

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Languages spoken in Somalia: focus on foreign languages

At the end of the nineteenth century, Somalia experienced a double colonization: the British in the north of the country, the Italians in the south. This division created conflicts between the Somali elites. Indeed, those who knew English had easier access to civil service positions than those who spoke Italian.

Today, English is still taught in most schools throughout the country. The use of Italian, on the other hand, has declined considerably. It is interesting to note, however, that Somali (the country’s official language) has borrowed many words from its former colonizers.

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Languages spoken in Somalia: focus on dialects

In southern Somalia, there are other more regional languages such as Chimwiini and Kibajuni. Both are derived from Swahili. The first is spoken by the inhabitants of Brava (port city), the second is used by the Bajuni (community of the city of Kismayyo). Finally, among the languages spoken in Somalia, we can also mention Mushunguli, used by a small tribe of the same name.

Published on 27 January 2023