An article published online in the International Journal of Asian Linguistics, by researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada, provides the first example of an “English-as-a-first-language” pronoun in a Somali dialect.
“There are some things that are not as well understood as people would think,” said Dr. Abdi Hassan, the lead author of the article.
“The pronoun ‘she’ is one of them.”
The pronoun ‘they’ is also present, but it is used more in everyday speech.
This makes sense because “she” is a verb, meaning “to speak,” and the verb “they” is an adjective.
But “they,” “she,” and “sheng” are not always used in the same sentence.
Hassan and his team asked speakers of Somali dialects in northern Somalia and in the northwestern province of Kismayo to speak to one another.
To get a better idea of the pronoun usage, the researchers took their sample of about 4,000 Somali-speaking speakers and asked them to read out an example of “they.”
“They” is pronounced as “she.”
The authors found that the pronoun “they”—as a pronoun—was used in nearly two-thirds of the samples, while it was used only about 1.5 per cent of the time in the sample of English speakers.
“I think we’ve seen a number of cases where people don’t even know what they’re saying,” Hassan said.
“This is a language that’s spoken by hundreds of thousands of people and has this pronoun system.”
While this is not the first time that the English-as a-first language pronoun has been found in Somali dialect, it is the first such example of it.
Hassan’s group is not calling it a “first language” pronoun, because it does not actually have a formal name.
“We’re trying to be very careful not to use the term ‘first language,’ because that is not a language,” Hassan told CBC News.
The pronoun “she/sheng,” he added, is a “strong, clear, masculine word that has a lot of associations in Somali culture.”
The word “sheeng,” which is pronounced differently than the word “theyng,” has been around for centuries in other Somali dialect languages.
The researchers note that it was first coined in the 19th century, but its use has declined since then.
The term “sheen,” which means “white,” is a very common word in the Somali language, Hassan explained.
“It’s used by men to describe their physical characteristics, so I think it’s very common in that context.”
Hassan and the others hope to continue exploring this new phenomenon and to learn more about its meanings and history.
“Our goal is to develop better, more accurate ways to quantify and measure the use of ‘sheen’ and ‘sheeng,’ and to use those metrics to better understand the potential impact that this new pronoun has on Somali society,” he said.
The study, “Is this a first language pronoun?
An ethnographic investigation of Somali English-As-a