Maay language

Native to Somalia; significant communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, North America, and Yemen.
Native speakers
1.9 million in Somalia (2006)[1]
Maay alphabet
(Latin script)
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ymm
Glottolog maay1238[2]

Maay Maay (also known as Af-Maay, Af-Maymay, Rahanween, Rahanweyn, or simply Maay and sometimes spelled Mai Mai) is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family and is written using the Latin script. It is spoken mostly in Somalia and adjacent parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. Its speakers are known as Sab Somalis. The center of the language is around Baidoa.


Somali linguistic varieties are divided into three main groups: Northern, Benadir and Maay. Northern Somali (or Northern-Central Somali) forms the basis for Standard Somali.[3]

Maay is principally spoken by the Digil and Mirifle (Rahanweyn or Sab) clans in the southern regions of Somalia.[3] Its speech area extends from the southwestern border with Ethiopia to a region close to the coastal strip between Mogadishu and Kismayo, including the city of Baidoa.[4] Maay is not mutually comprehensible with Northern Somali or Benadir, and it differs considerably in sentence structure and phonology.[5] It is also not generally used in education or media. However, Maay speakers often use Standard Somali as a lingua franca,[4] which is learned via mass communications, internal migration and urbanization.[5]

Maay is closely related with the Jiido, Dabarre, Garre and Tunni languages that are also spoken by smaller Rahanweyn communities. Collectively, these languages present similarities with Oromo that are not found in mainstream Somali. Chief among these is the lack of pharyngeal sounds in the Rahanweyn/Digil and Mirifle languages, features which by contrast typify Somali. The retroflex /ɖ/ is also replaced by /r/ in some positions. Although in the past frequently classified as dialects of Somali, more recent research by the linguist Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi has shown that these varieties, including Maay, constitute separate Cushitic languages. They may thus represent traces of an Oromo substratum in the southern Rahanweyn confederacy.[6]



Maay Maay exhibits significant amounts of epenthesis, inserting central or high-central vowels to break up consonant clusters. Vowel length is contrastive; minimal pairs such as bur 'flour' and buur 'mountain' are attested.


Maay Maay is fairly agglutinative. It has complex verb forms, inflecting at least for tense/aspect and person/number of both subject and object. There is also a prefix indicating negation. In addition, verbs exhibit derivational morphology, including a causative and an applicative. Nominal morphology includes a definiteness suffix, whose form depends on the gender of the head noun, and possessive suffixes.


Maay Maay exhibits SVO and SOV word orders, apparently in fairly free variation. When the object is postverbal, the prefix maay appears on the verb. Within the noun phrase, the head noun is generally initial. Possessors, adjectives and some strong quantifiers follow the head noun. Numerals and the indefinite quantifier precede the head noun.


  1. Maay at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Maay". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 Dalby (1998:571)
  4. 1 2 Saeed, John (1999). Somali. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. p. 4. ISBN 1-55619-224-X.
  5. 1 2 "Maay - A language of Somalia". Ethnologue. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  6. Abdullahi (2001:9)

External links

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