Time in Ethiopia:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chapter 4 - Somali Plural Nouns Formation

Ethiopian Argument | Saturday, April 05, 2014
 Inventory on the plural of nouns : 
In Somali, there is not one, but four ways to form the plural of nouns :
  1. By adding a vowel suffix to the end of the name, usually -o ; -yo ; -oyin or -yaal.
  2. By reduplicating a monosyllabic noun.
  3. By making a tonal change on the noun : prosodic plural.
  4. By adding a complex suffix : irregular plural.
For a given noun, the mechanism used is always the same.
Another feature of Somali is that a number of nouns switch gender when they are plural.


 Detailed review of different types of plurals : 
  • Type 1 - Feminine/Masculine, with -o ending
  • Type 2 - Feminine/Masculine, with -oyin ending
  • Type 3 - Masculine/Feminine, with -o or -yo ending
  • Type 4 - Masculine/Feminine, with -yaal ending
  • Type 5 - Masculine/Masculine, with -o or -yo ending
  • Type 6 - Masculine/Masculine, with reduplication
  • Type 7 - Masculine/Feminine, with tonal change
  • Type 8 - Irregular plurals

 Type 1 - Feminine in singular, masculine in plural, with "-o" ending 
Singular does not end in /-o/.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/ or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular (absolutive) has high tone on the last syllable.
Vowel loss occurs in plural if phonological conditions are met.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
káb kabo shoe
náag naago woman
irbád irbado needle
mindí mindiyo knife
nimrád nimrado numeral
gacán gacmo hand
galáb galbo afternoon
madág madago or madko fire-stick
qolóf qolfo husk


 Type 2 - Feminine in singular, masculine in plural, with "-oyin" ending 
Singular always ends in -o.
Plural is formed by adding /-oyin/.
Both singular and plural have final HL sequence on last two syllables.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
ayéeyo ayeeyóoyin grandmother
dáwo dawóoyin medicine
éeddo eeddóoyin maternal aunt
hóoyo hooyóoyin mother
magáalo magaalóoyin town
shéeko sheekóoyin story
tálo talóoyin decision
wáddo waddóoyin road


 Type 3 - Masculine in singular, feminine in plural, with "-o" ending 
Singular is always polysyllabic and does not end in -e.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/ and doubling last consonant if /b/, /d/, /dh/, /l/, /r/, /n/, /m/, or by adding /-yo/ after /i/, /x/, /c/, /q/, and sometimes after /s/ or /g/.
Divided into two subgroups on the basis of tonal behavior :

 Type 2a : 
This is the majority case.
Singular ends in HL sequence on last two moras
The last two moras can be either one or two syllables ; rest of singular is L.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
baabùur baabuurro truck
darìiq dariiqyo road
dísti distiyo cooking pot
dhínac dhinacyo side
muftax muftaxyo key
nácas nacasyo fool
sánnad sannaddo year
wáddan waddammo country


 Type 2b : 
Not more than 50 words in the language.
Singular has L tone throughout
However, L tone is exceptional in that the last syllable does not lower before a pause.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
abti abtiyo maternal uncle
durmaan durmaanno drum
gorgor gorgorro vulture
huudhi huudhiyo canoe
markhaati markhaatiyo witness
sambab sambabbo lung
suldaan suldanno sultan


 Type 4 - Masculine in singular, feminine in plural, with "-yaal" ending
Singular always ends in -e.
Plural is formed by adding /-yaal/ and changing final /e/ to /a/.
Singular has penultimate-syllable H.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
áabe aabayaal father
agaasíme agaasimayaal director
báre barayaal teacher
danjíre danjirayaal ambassador
fúre furayaal key
jáalle jaallayaal comrade
madaxwéyne madaxweynayaal president
túke tukayaal crow
xogháye xoghayayaal secretary


 Type 5 - Masculine in both singular and plural, with "-o" / "-yo" ending 
Singular ends with a consonant, or in -i.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/, or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular (absolutive) ends in HL sequence on last two moras.
Vowel loss can occur in plural.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
gárab garbo shoulder blade
hílib hilbo meat
ílig ilko tooth
jílib jilbo knee
qódob qodbo or qodobbo article
xádhig xadhko rope
xáraf xarfo letter (of the alphabet)
béri beryo day
gúri guryo house
nàas naaso breast


 Type 6 - Masculine in both singular and plural, with reduplication 
Singular is always monosyllabic.
Plural is formed by reduplicating the last consonant, preceded by /a/.

Singular (absolutive) has HL pattern if syllable is long, otherwise H.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
áf afaf mouth, language
bùug buugag book
dáb dabab fire
mìis miisas table
nín niman men
sán sanan nose
tùug tuugag thief
wán wanan ram
xèer xeerar traditional law
xòor xoorar ratel (honey badger)


 Type 7 - Masculine in singular, feminine in plural, with tonal change 
This type is a small group.
Tone is final HL in singular ; final LH in plural.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
àwr áwr male camel
bálli ballí pond
Cárab Caráb Arab
díbi dibí bull
èy éy dog
mádax madáx head, chief
órgi orgí male goat
Soomáali Soomaalí Somali (person)
Xabáshi Xabashí Ethiopian
yèy yéy wolf
Many of these nouns have a regular plural, e.g. the noun èy "dog" can take the plural eyo.


 Type 8 - Irregular plurals 
 Arabic broken plurals 
From the examples given, it seems singular has final HL (moras), plural has final H.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
búnduq banaadíiq rifle
kúrsi kuraasí chair
márkab maraakíib ship
maxbùus maxaabíis prisoner


May often be given Somali plurals ; for example the noun kúrsi "chair" can be found with the plural form kursiyo.

 Rare plurals 
Addition of /-an/ or /-aan/ is cited.
From the examples given, it seems singular has final HL (moras), plural has final H.

Singular absolute Plural absolute Translation
úgax ugxáan egg
dhágax dhagxán stone
qálin qalmáan pen


May also be found with regular endings : úgax can be treated as a Type 5 noun, qálin can be treated as a Type 3 noun.


 An ordered chaos : 
After analyzing the different ways to form a plural in Somali, we now propose to "predict" the plural of a noun empirically : for behind the apparent chaos are hidden a few simple rules : bear to mind that a young Somali child is capable of giving the plural of any noun without mistake !
  1. Don't bother if the noun is masculine or feminine : it doesn't matter at this stage.
  2. In 90% of cases, a singular noun forms its plural by adding -o or -yo at the end !
  3. If the singular noun already ends in -o, it forms its plural by adding -oyin.
  4. If the singular noun ends in -e, it forms its plural by adding -yaal.
  5. If the singular noun is monosyllabic, it generally forms its plural by reduplication.
  6. The only difficult cases (no more than 5% of nouns) are nouns that form their plurals by changing the tone, or irregular plurals, but even then, there is often an alternative form in -o !
              Source: http://hooyo.web.free.fr

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