Wadaad writing

Wadaad writing, also known as Wadaad Arabic, is the traditional Somali adaptation of written Arabic,[1] as well as the Arabic script as historically used to transcribe the Somali language.[2] Originally, it referred to an ungrammatical Arabic featuring some words in Somali, with the proportion of Somali vocabulary terms varying depending on the context.[3] Alongside standard Arabic, wadaad writing was used by Somali religious men (wadaado) to record xeer (customary law) petitions and to write qasidas.[1][4] It was also used by merchants for business and letter writing.[4] Over the years, various Somali scholars improved and altered the use of the Arabic script for conveying Somali. This culminated in the 1950s with the Galal alphabet, which substantially modified letter values and introduced new letters for vowels.[2]

14th century stone tablet from Somalia in Arabic script.[citation needed][Is this in Arabic, Somali, or mixed?]


Sample historical text in wadaad writing.

The Arabic script was introduced to Somalia in the 13th century by Sheikh Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn (colloquially referred to as Aw Barkhadle or the "Blessed Father"[5]),[6] a man described as "the most outstanding saint in northern Somalia."[7] Of Somali descent, he sought to advance the teaching of the Qur'an.[6] Al-Kawneyn devised a Somali nomenclature for the Arabic vowels, which enabled his pupils to read and write in Arabic.[8] Shiekh Abi-Bakr Al Alawi, a Harari historian, states in his book that Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn was of native and local Dir (clan) extraction.[9]

Though various Somali wadaads and scholars had used the Arabic script to write in Somali for centuries, it would not be until the 19th century when the Qadiriyyah saint Sheikh Uways al-Barawi of the Tuuni clan would improve the application of the Arabic script to represent Somali. He applied it to the Maay dialect of southern Somalia, which at the time was the closest to standardizing Somali with the Arabic script. Al-Barawi modeled his alphabet after the Arabic transcription adopted by the Amrani of Barawa (Brava) to write their Swahili dialect, Bravanese.[10][11]

Wadaad writing was often unintelligible to Somali pupils who learned standard Arabic in government-run schools.[12] During the 1930s in the northwestern British Somaliland protectorate, Mahammad 'Abdi Makaahiil attempted to standardize the orthography in his book The Institution of Modern Correspondence in the Somali language. Following in the footsteps of Sh. Ibraahim 'Abdallah Mayal, Makaahiil therein championed the use of the Arabic script for writing Somali, showing examples of this usage through proverbs, letters and sentences.[10]

Revision by J. S. KingEdit

In 1887, British writer, J. S. King wrote for the Indian Antiquary an article titled "Somali as a written language" in which he proposes a standard Arabic based Somali script.[13] Some of the main changes and features were the combined use of both Arabic and Sanskrit features:

  • The Somali 'dh' sound is represented as a new character with influence from both 'ड and 'د'
  • A new 'r' letter is assigned which also seems to have been fused from 'ड़' and 'ر'
  • Somali 'g' in this case is written as 'گ'
  • A new 'l' is introduced, with Sanskrit elements to form 'ڸ'
  • Finally, a new 'n' is proposed with two dots above the standard Arabic 'ن'

King had also reformed the vowel structure, by introducing separate vowel markers for the Somali 'o' and 'e'.

In this article, he provided over 100 examples of the script in use, some of which include:

King's script Somali transliteration English translation
مَنَبَدْبَ Ma nabad ba Are you well?
اَفكْي صومالئِيد كُهَدَل Afkii Soomaaliyeed ku hadal Speak in the Somali language
ادِگَ وَلي ارض الهندي مَتْگْتي Adiga weli ard alhindiya (dhulka hiindiya) ma tegtay? Have you ever been to India?

Galaal ScriptEdit

In the 1954, the Somali linguist Musa Haji Ismail Galal (1917–1980) introduced a more radical alteration of Arabic to represent the Somali Language. Galal came up with an entirely new set of symbols for the Somali vowels. Lewis (1958) considered this to be the most accurate Arabic alphabet to have been devised for the Somali language.[2] He had published his work in the Islamic Quarterly, outlining and providing examples as to why a new Arabic based script was needed for use in Somaliland.[14] This was different from other versions as every vowel and consonant was written, lowering the use of diacritics.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Lewis, I.M. (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 175. ISBN 3825830845.
  2. ^ a b c Lewis, p.139-140
  3. ^ Lewis, p.136
  4. ^ a b Singh, p.59
  5. ^ Abdullahi, p.13
  6. ^ a b Lewis, p.135
  7. ^ Lewis, I.M. (1998). Saints and Somalis: Popular Islam in a Clan-based Society. The Red Sea Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-56902-103-3.
  8. ^ Laitin, p.85
  9. ^ Quath, Faati (1957). Islam Walbaasha Cabra Taarikh [Islam and Abyssinia throughout history] (in Arabic). Cairo,Egypt.
  10. ^ a b Lewis, p.139
  11. ^ Martin, p.163
  12. ^ Lewis, p.137
  13. ^ "Somali as a written language" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Arabic Script for Somali - Muuse Galaal" (PDF).