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Somali belongs to the East Cushitic branch of Cushitic. (Webbook)
Ethnologue lists the classification as: Afro-Asiatic, Cushitic, East, Somali
Outside of Africa there are notable communities in Finland, Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Yemen. (Ethnologue)
According to Ethnologue:
95,572 second-language speakers of Somali in Ethiopia (Ethnologue)
Wikipedia gives the figure of 15-25 million.
There are three mutually intelligible language clusters of Somali (Johnson, personal communication, 1983):
However, according to Saeed (Central Somali: a grammatical outline, 1982), the central dialect series is not mutually intelligible with Benadir or Common Somali. Many materials have previously been prepared in Common Somali, but the Mogadishu variety appears to be slowly becoming the standard. For further information on the Somali dialects in Kenya, see Heine (1980). (Webbook)
Northern Somali, Benaadir, Af-Ashraaf (Ashraaf). Northern Somali is the basis for Standard Somali. It is readily intelligible to speakers of Benaadir Somali, but difficult or unintelligible to most Maay and Digil speakers. (Ethnologue)
Somali is the national language of Somalia, where it is used in the schools, government, and daily commerce. There is a Somali daily newspaper in Mogadishu, Xiddigta Oktoobar. Somali is heard on various national and international radio stations, all using Common Somali. (Webbook) [This information is dated; how has usage evolved in recent years?]
It is apparently used as a local official language in parts of Ethiopia.
Literacy rates (according to Ethnologue):
A Romanized orthography for Somali was adopted as the only official one in 1972, replacing a variety of older orthographies. (Webbook)
The Osmaniyya script was recently encoded in Unicode.
The Omniglot page on Somali discusses the writing systems used for Somali: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/somali.htm
Information about Somali alphabets (in Somali) [links from Omniglot]:
The letters and digraphs of the Somali Latin alphabet in its alphabetical order (from Wikipedia):
' b t j x kh d r s sh dh c g f q k l m n w h y a e i o u
A sample text is shown on the "Language Museum" site: http://www.language-museum.com/s/somali.htm
Standard fonts with ASCII characters suffice for Somali Latin transcription.
A page with access to Unicode fonts for Osmanya is at http://www.wazu.jp/gallery/Fonts_Osmanya.html
A keyboard layout has been proposed (August 2006). A PDF file explaining it, and the keyboard driver can be downloaded at http://www.redsea-online.com/soomaali/
La dislocation de l'état somalien en 1991 a occasionné l'eclatement de la société somalienne et des différentes structures (écoles, journaux, radio, etc.). La partie Nord du pays s'est autoproclamée indépendante. Tous ces facteurs sont necéssaires pour comprendre l'appropriation des TIC de la société somalienne. Les TIC ont constitué le facteur de liaison entre les différents camps de réfugiés, la diaspora et ceux qui sont resté au pays. De nombreux journaux d'informations (le plus souvent géographiquement delimités) ont fait leurs apparitions.
Des journaux d'informations générales avec plus de moyens ont aussi peu à peu fait leur apparition.
Examples of websites with content in Somali:
There is a project to localise a free Somali language wordprocessor to be called "Ubbo." Expected release: late November 2006. [need update]
There is a project to translate Debian (Linux) Installer in Somali (but apparently nothing has been done as of 1/2007): https://launchpad.net/ubuntu/edgy/+source/debian-installer/+pots/debian-installer
An older localized Somali wordprocessor (with spell-check & English-Somali translator) called Hikaadiye was marketed by SomiTek beginning in the late 1990s. Not aware of newer versions or other localisation efforts.
Locales have been written for Somali of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya:
Proverbs in Somali http://www.somalinet.com/library/maah/
This language could be a priority for localisation given past work (notably by SomiTek) and current efforts.
Omniglot, "Somali (af Soomaali)," http://www.omniglot.com/writing/somali.htm
SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Somali," http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=som
SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp
U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php
Wikipedia, "Somali language," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somali_language