The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 19, 2013

Parlez-vous Somali?

African tongue offered on bank’s local ATMs

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER COUNTY — Arghhh!

That might be the sentiment of local Huntington Bank ATM customers faced with picking among English, Spanish and Somali for the language to use to do their business.

Somali?

Ahoy, ahem, yes, Somali – as in Somalia, the land that spawned the last vestiges of piracy on the high sea.

No, much as xenophobes and global conspiracy theorists might intone,

Huntington isn’t tied to the Central Bank of Somalia, the institution that controls riches in the Horn of Africa.

Instead, the Columbus, Ohio-based bank is merely trying to best serve its customers in, wait for it – Columbus, Ohio, and Detroit – where there are burgeoning Somali populations, according to Brent Wilder, communications manager for the bank.

“I know it seems unusual,” Wilder said.

He’s often asked why Somali is an option for a language, and his answer is it’s to serve the Somalis in those cities, he said.

There are about 20,000 people who list Africa as their birthplace in Columbus, according to the Census bureau, which doesn’t detail those births by country.

In Detroit, one of the places where Huntington also does business, there are 37,536 people who were born overseas, according to the 2010 Census. It doesn’t break those numbers down by continent or country of origin.

Both cities have enough of a Somali-speaking populous to warrant the language option, Wilder said.

The bank uses a universal ATM program that doesn’t change by region, so areas like the Shenango Valley, which have no measurable Somali presence, retain the language option, he said.

“It’s important to have a consistent delivery platform,” Wilder said.

Thus far there has been no attempt by a bank to offer a “yinzer” option to translate the language of finance into the Pittsburgh-based dialect widely spoken here that includes words like “yinz,” and phrases like “redd up” that’s spoken by legions of Pirates fans – the baseball Buccaneers, not the thieving shipmates of Somali fame.

By choosing English, Huntington customers can dispense with any confusion and proceed to withdraw or deposit their cash and get on with their day.