Reviewed by Liban Ahmad
Book: English-Maay Dictionary
Authors: Mohamed Haji Mukhtar and Omar Moalim Ahmed
Paperback: 213 pages
Publication date: July 2007
The Somali Maay is one of the major dialects spoken in Somalia. Unlike the Maxaa dialect, which was chosen to become the standard dialect in Somalia in 1972, Maay dialect speakers have never enjoyed the privilege of seeing their dialect used in the public administration and as a medium of instruction.
Since 1991 a group of Maay-speaking intellectuals have been working hard to raise the profile of the dialect through meetings and seminars that culminated in the adoption of a less widely used orthography of Maay. Without their efforts the Somali Maay dictionary would not have seen the light of day.
As the name of the dictionary shows lexicographers view Maay as one of the languages spoken in Somalia, a view to which Professor Abdalla Omar Mansur, a Somali linguist and lexicographer, disagrees.
Professor Mohamed Mukhtar and Omar Moalim Ahmed, who compiled and translated the first English-Maay dictionary, look upon it as ‘the first experiment exploring the roots of Maay language and its relationship to other Somali dialects as well as the Kushitic family of languages in the Horn of Africa.’
Maay speakers assert theirs is a language different from the standard Maxaa dialect. ‘If Maxaa and Maay were different languages a Maay speaker would not have understood what a Maxaa speaker had said’ argues Professor Mansur.
The dictionary will leave no one in doubt that Maay, despite the absence of a grammatical sketch of the dialect, is as a rich dialect as its Maxaa sibling. Mukhtar and Omar used a Maay orthography to translate English entries of the bilingual dictionary but it is different from the orthography used to write the Maay version of the Somali Draft Constitution.
The translation approach Mukhtar and Omar used is significant due to the linguistic data it yields for the benefit of Somali linguistics researchers. Familiarity with the standard Maxaa grammar will go a long way to enable the researcher to appreciate similarities and differences between Maxaa and Maay dialects.
Grammatically, Maay and Maxaa dialects have a lot in common. Maay cluster prepositions follow the same rules as those of Maxaa. When the impersonal pronoun ly ( la ) is combined with the preposition ing (u) the result is ling ( loo).
In Maay dialect ing additionally is a negative marker, the equivalent of aan of Maxaa dialect, as the following example will illustrate: ‘masqang gal ing haayny’ ( absurd: p.13) and ‘ ooftis ing haayny’ ( careless, p.41). If ling has no a variant spelling, Maay dialect grammar is more complicated than standard Maxaa grammar: the intensifier sy (si ) causes the impersonal pronoun ly ( la) to be assimilated with the preposition ing (u) to produce lyng as in ‘wal sy gef eh lyng etheegsythy (abuse: p.13) instead of ling as in ‘wal … [sy] feyli ling deresi amy ling baary'( analyze, p.20).
Explaining why some Maay verbs are similar to Maxaa verbs in their imperative forms is beyond the scope of this review essay. The Maxaa verb fiiri ( to look ) is fiiri in Maay but kari ( to cook ), which belongs to the same conjugation group as fiiri, becomes kariyow in Maay ( to cook, p.55 ). If you want to say in Maay dialect ‘Cook food tomorrow!’, Professor Mukhtar and Omar expect you to say ‘Hung-gury kariyow barriyey!’
English-Maay dictionary brings to our attention phonological complexities of the Somali Maay dialect, the second official language of the Federal Republic of Somalia. It is a major contribution to Somali Studies .
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