February 15, 2004

46 Somali words for camel

A number of readers have emailed to ask about the "several dozen words for 'camel' in Somali" that I mentioned in an earlier post. After wrestling with my conscience, I've dug out a list of 46 such words that I compiled a few years ago when we studied Somali in a field methods course that I sometimes teach, and I'll share it with you in the hopes of taking some of the heat off the much-abused Eskimos and their words for snow. So now, if you want to observe that things of category X are important to members of group Y, you can go ahead and write "If the Somalis have some 46 different words for camel, then Y must have more than 50 words for X". Geoff Pullum will be able to criticize you for hackneyed rhetoric and banality of thought, as well as for the unmotivated assumption that cultural interest always translates instantly into multiplication of vocabulary. However, he won't also castigate you for incredibly sloppy scholarship on the exotic-language word-count issue. Unless, of course, you come at the end of new chain of serial exaggerations, and write "If the Somalis have more than 460 words for camel, then ..."

My list is somewhat more reliable than the unchecked serial exaggeration of Eskimo snow vocabulary originally documented by Laura Martin, and later popularized and extended by Geoff. At least it's an actual list of alleged words. However, no one should take it as gospel truth. Most of the glosses have been taken from Zorc and Osman's Somali-English Dictionary, and some have been checked with one or two Somali language consultants, with possible scribal errors by me. There are doubtless other words I've omitted -- a brief internet search turned up at least three candidates, cited below -- and perhaps some of the items on my list should be removed.

However, scholarly quibbles aside, there can be no doubt that the Somali have lots of words for (different kinds of) camels -- and even more words for pieces of camel herding, packing and riding gear, camel diseases, things camels do, things you can do with or to camels, camel body parts (whether integrated into live camels or removed for other uses), things made from bits of camel, things that look like bits of camel, and so forth. That's because camels and the material culture of camel husbandry are a big part of Somali life. I do share the general prejudice that it's normal for people to develop lots of words for animals (as well as other things) that are important to them -- consider the set of English horse words that I (not at all a horse person) can think of: arabian, barb, bay, buckskin, cayuse, clydesdale, cob, colt, courser, dobbin, filly, foal, gelding, horse, lippizaner, mare, mount, mustang, nag, palomino, percheron, pinto, pony, przewalski, quarter horse, roan, shetland, sorrel, stallion, steed, stud, thoroughbred, trotter.

A brief internet search turned up a scholarly presentation The Camel in Somalia that claims a total of 8,741,978 camels in Somalia, as of some curiously exact but surely out-of-date census, and asserts that this is "around 50 percent of Africa's total camel population". (By comparison, their slide 10 claims 170,000 camels in Egypt and 165,000 in Saudi Arabia.) Note that slide 9, which presents a table from M.A. Hussein's "Conceptual classification of Somali camel types", characterizes "Southern Somali Camel Types" as hoor, siifdaar and eyddimo. None of these terms are in my list below, nor could I find any likely entries for them in the dictionaries I have at hand.

The CIA World Factbook for Somalia gives the human population as 8,025,190, also as of a long-out-of-date census; but in any case there are apparently roughly as many camels as people in Somalia.

I've tried to leave out camel-applicable words whose primary meaning is more general, such as

horweyn "group of livestock or camels herded separately (usually those who are not giving milk)"\
malloolli "sterile and fat male (of man, ram, camel, etc.)"

It would be easy to add another couple dozen of those.

OK, enough preliminaries. Here's the list:

aaran "young camels who are no longer sucklings"
abeer or ameer "female camel that has not given birth"
afkuxuuble "miscarried camel fetus"
awr "male pack camel"
awradhale "camel that always gives birth to he-camels; stud-camel that always breeds male camels"
baarfuran "female camel that is not used as a pack camel"
baarqab "stud camel"
baatir "mature female camel that has had no offspring"
baloolley "she-camel without calf that will or will not give milk depending on her mood"
buub "young unbroken male camel"
caddaysimo "unloaded pack camel; unpoisoned arrow"
caggabbaruur "lion cub; young camel"
cashatab "female camel that has stopped giving milk or failed to conceive when it was supposed to"
cayuun "camel sp."
daandheer "strong camel of the herd"
duq "old female camel; old woman"
dhaan "camel loaded with water vessels"
dhoocil "bull camel; naughty boy/girl"
farruud or qarruud "mature male camels; elders"
garruud "old male camels; old people"
geel "camel"
gool "fat camel"
guubis or guumis "first-born male camel"
gulaal "male camel unable to project the gland in his mouth; person with hesitant or stammering speech"
guran "herd of camels no longer giving milk that are kept far from dwelling areas"
gurgurshaa "calm, docile pack-camel which can be loaded with delicate items" [from gurgur "to carry things one by one"]
hal "female camel"
hayin "tame pack camel; [atr.] docile; [ext.] simple, uncomplicated"
irmaan "dairy camels"
kareeb "mother camel kept apart from her young
koron "gelded camel"
labakurusle "two humped camel [lit. two-camelhump-er]"
luqmalliigle "young camel"
mandhoorey "lead ~ best camel in the herd"
nirig "camel foal"
rati "male camel"
qaalin "young camel"
qaan "young camel ~ camels"
qawaar "old she camel"
qoorqab "uncastrated male (camel etc.)"
qurbac "young male camel"
rakuub "riding camel (from Arabic)"
ramag or ramad "she camel who has recently given birth"
sidig "one of two female camels suckling the same infant"
tulud "one's one and only camel"
xagjir "milk-producing camel that is partially milked (two udders for human consumption; two for its calf)"

From among the many other camel-related words in Somali, here are a few of my personal favorites;

golqaniinyo "bite given on a camel's flank to render her docile during milking"
gulguuluc "low bellow of a camel when it is sick or thirsty; poem recited in a low voice"
fur "to unload a camel; to open, disclose, set free, decipher, untie"
guree "to make room for a person to sit on a loaded camel; to make space for s.o. in a loaded car or truck"
haneed "left side of cow camel where one stands when milking; good form, nice style"
u maqaarsaar "to put the skin of a dead calf or baby camel on top of a living one in order to induce (cow, camel) to still give milk; [fig.] deceive, mislead or trick s.o."
uusmiiro "to extract water for oneself from the stomach of a camel to drink during a period of drought"
booli "looted camels"

[In case you're puzzled about the gloss for gulaal "male camel unable to project the gland in his mouth; person with hesitant or stammering speech" , it's all explained here. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 15, 2004 10:59 AM