How can we speak the truth if they can’t understand us?

VanLehman, D., Fricke, C., Wilsey Gopp, A., Elderfield, E.
Publication language
Date published
08 May 2023
Research, reports and studies
Accountability and Participation, Drought, Inclusion
Use in Humanitarian Programme Cycle
Needs assessment and analysis, Strategic response planning
Translators without Borders, CLEAR Global

Failure to address language barriers compounds challenges accessing assistance for internally displaced people in Somalia, especially for vulnerable groups and marginalized Maay and Benadiri ethnic groups.

Humanitarian organizations responding to acute and widespread food insecurity in Somalia lack data to understand and address language-based exclusion. As a result, they risk reproducing and aggravating pre-existing exclusion of marginalized language speakers in society. Data from the 2021 Joint Multi-Cluster Needs Assessment (JMCNA) for Somalia, analyzed jointly by REACH and CLEAR Global, highlights the marginalization of minority groups from humanitarian assistance, and the role of language as a compounding factor of exclusion. These findings challenge a widespread perception that Northern Standard Somali (Mahaa) is used and understood by all, and mutually intelligible with Maay and Benadiri Somali. To further understand the language challenges internally displaced people (IDPs) face in Somalia, we talked to humanitarians and academics who speak either Maay, Benadiri,  or Mahaa as a first language about the mutual intelligibility of these languages and dialects and the resulting language barriers.