Somali etymology

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term “etymology (of a word)” means the origin of a particular word. I like this particular field of linguistics because of my overarching zest for finding the root causes of all things and although I’m a polyglot enthusiast, the Somali language, my mother tongue, captures my interest in a unique way.
Somali is my second language, Swedish being my first. I didn’t learn Somali by default, rather it was a conscious effort in a bid to be seen as a bona fide Somali. My Somali used to be jested at by native speakers who are quite unforgiving of the slightest mistakes, so I always used to wonder to myself;What makes a good Somali good? Language, for the Somalis, is the kernel of their identity, for up until the beginning of  the 1970’s,the Somali language was an exclusively spoken language.Thus its entire history,culture,values and such were carried by the language.So it is very important for Somalis, according to their values, to be very competent in the different sciences of the languages,such as poetry and eloquence and proverbs and such.
It is a tough shield to break through if you want to be accepted.Partially because the language is still to a large extent conserved in the hearts of people,so unless you live amongst them in Somalia,it’s hard to be fluent in it because there isn’t much literature that is available to learn vocabulary and such from.Then,Somalis tend to be very critical when it comes to speaking their language.Even if you speak very fluently and have  a slight non-Somali accent ( like yours truly 😀 ),that could cause them to discredit you and put up a barrier.Defensive mechanism perhaps.Anyhoo,I wish to share the findings of my curiosity.
I found this very interesting book in my local library about the etymology of the Somali language titled ‘Abtirsiinta erayga af-soomaaliga’ that explains how all the words in the Somali language stem from 180 base words. It’s the first book ever written that delves with the Somali etymology.I came across the word abaayo which is a ubiquitous word that means ‘sister’ and Eebe, which is an archaic word that means ‘god’.


Abaayo is made up of three  base words- ab+ba’+yo
Ab means: Procreation,birth,addition,wellness etc.
Ba’ means:death,evil,destruction
Yo: A pronoun that denotes a place where something occurs, i.e., halkaan.
Explanation: If a boy is born,then he has the ability to continue the lineage (abtirsiin) and his fathers heritage.Whereas a girl (the abaayo to the boy) doesn’t continue her fathers lineage,thus the word conveys the meaning: It is here where the procreation is destroyed.
In summary: Ab-Procreation
Yo:Denotes place;halkaan.
Notice how Ab and Ba are reverse and at the same time stand for opposite meanings or antonyms.This goes for all base words;their reverse denote the opposite meaning.If Ib is positive then Bi is negative.


Eebe is the pre-Islaamic word for deity,also called Waaq which was the deity Somalis used to direct their worship to before Islaam.So it’s like the Somali equivalent of God.
Eebe is composed of two base words:
Thus Eb stands for the beginning of all good.Therefore,it is often said when a task is successfully completed: Waa la ebyey 
Be:It stands for death,evil,destruction. 
So,Eb+Be imply a beginning and end that are connected.Or in other words;eb-be is the one who began everything and who will alone remain after everything ends.
This is the origin of the word Eebe that is a Somali word to mean God or a deity.After the advent of Islaam,Allaah or Ilaahey became more widely used.

Nuur, Caliqeyr M. Abtirsiinta Erayga Af-Soomaaliga. N.p.: Iftiinka Aqoonta, n.d. Print.


2 responses to Somali etymology

  1. namo

    The first write up of yours I read and I blurt out laughing. Lol, what? Abaayo = It is here where the procreation is destroyed? XD Dead. The way language develops and the theories surrounding it.


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