30 March 2010

a language post

in honor of the post that fly-brother made today viz spanish/portuguese, i was thinking about making an afrikaans/dutch post, but i might just keep it to afrikaans and throw in a few other southern african languages.

many black south africans -- and a few black americans who i know that live here -- get on my case on my ability to speak afrikaans. it's not a particularly difficult language unlike, say, xhosa with its 15 noun classes, or sotho with its highly tonal and contextual meanings. don't get me wrong, i can read xhosa [and by default zulu, since they are as mutually intelligible as, say, iberian spanish and iberian portuguese] and still get the meaning. it's not a problem. but for speech and gossip, i don't have a problem with speaking afrikaans. at all.

[two major, major caveats here -- the first is that i could speak in dutch reasonably well due to my creche and my post-18 exploits in dutch-speaking places; the second is my stepson is afrikaans-first-language, and his grandmother doesn't speak english at all. so if i want to talk to her, ek moet met haar in afrikaans praat.]

one of the main things i like about afrikaans is that it's the lone "new" language from a dutch colony that is based on dutch -- papamiento and srinantongo are both based on iberian languages; the former from iberian languages and west african ones, the latter iberian languages plus west african plus bahasa. both languages have a lot of dutch words, but it's largely because they still go to school in dutch. conversely, afrikaans speakers don't go to school in dutch, and only see the language in place names and old bibles. but an afrikaans speaker can largely understand dutch, although the other way around is somewhat problematic.

two things that i often say to people who are afrikaans first language who think that dutch comes from afrikaans and not the other way around [and, christ, south africans are worse than americans and almost as bad as the chinese when it comes to thinking the world revolves around them] are that a) to a dutch person, afrikaans is like listening to obasanjo speak english and b) afrikaans was the slave language; it was called "koshuis nederlands" [kitchen dutch] for a reason.

both of these, while true, are not very welcome views here. oh well.

here's a tip for afrikaans -- if you know the dutch word for something, you can probably craft together afrikaans from breaking it in half, taking out some of the consonants, and/or turning "z" into "s" and "ij" into "y". you'll then be halfway there. seriously.

english - dutch - afrikaans

he - hij - hy
his - zijn - sy*
she - zij - sy*
her - haar - haar

company - maatschappij - maatskappy

to give - geven - gee
to know - kennen/weten - ken/weet
to stay - blijven - bly
to write - schrijven - skryf

*why yes, you do need context for this in afrikaans. the clue is, of course, that for "sy" meaning "his" the next word is almost always a noun; for "sy" meaning "she" the next word is almost always a verb.

there are a lot of words that come from bahasa in afrikaans as well, the most notable being "baie" meaning "a lot" or "very [much]" -- in dutch one would use "heel" or "veel"; in bahasa it's banyak.

the letter "g" as well as the digraph "ch" is the same as "ch" such as bach in german or loch in scottish ... which means you are looking for somewhere to spit after you have said the word for canal, which is "gracht" [it's the same word in dutch, and you see street names ending with -gracht in both the southwestern cape as well as in other dutch-speaking places].

the letter g had me thinking about writing this post today. i had to go to town to sort some mess that telkom did me this morning, and one of the first signs you see on the taxi rank when you get to central cape town is --

geen ingang sonder magtiging [unauthorized entry prohibited; literally "no entry without permission"]

that's 4 times you go "g" ... bah.

and given that "ge-" is one of the four ways one makes a past tense in afrikaans, you hear it a lot. the other three ways to make a past tense are "be-", "ver-" or you leave it alone if the base verb starts with "ge-" "be-" or "ver-" such as gebruik [to use], betaal [to pay], or vergeet [to forget].

xhosa/zulu are also a lot more fun [not]. the whole EVERYTHING MUST AGREE thing is really annoying. that said, i've noticed a lot in *spoken* xhosa [and also zulu], there is less agreement than one would expect. i've heard people say that it's the effect of english on the language, but personally the jury is still out.

for me, the main problem is for possessive adjectives --

-ami for my
-akho for your
-akhe for his/hers/its
-ethu for our
-enu for your [pl]
-abo for their

the dash means that the first letter is indicated by the class of noun -- and remember, there are 15 classes of noun.

the short version is that for the classes that start with "u" for both animate and inanimate nouns, the first letter is "w" --

umsebenzi wakho [your job]
ugogo wakhe [his granny]
umshini wethu [our machine]
ukukhula wami [my childhood; contextually, this is more like "the time while i was growing up"]

and the classes that start with "i" singular nouns start with "y" or "z" depending on accent for animate objects, and with "l" for inanimate objects --

impundu zami [my butt]
itjommie yakhe [her friend]
igugu lethu [our pride] -- hence, gugulethu
igama lakhe [his name]

it's stressful trying to get right. and that's just for possessive adjectives. what about, you know, in a sentence that says "these flowers are green" or somesuch. in english green doesn't have to agree with flowers in number [and/or gender], but in most other languages, of course, it does, and this is no exception. the wikipedia article on the xhosa language explains it better than i can.

now, this is largely a vocab issue because kirundi, kikongo, kimbundu and kiswahili all do this to an extent, really. that said, trying to do it while getting the 18 click sounds right on top of it is lots of fun, let me tell you.

that said, because this is cape town, i don't live in a place with a lot of xhosa speakers; most of the black people who live close to the city center are from other parts of africa. this is in part due to the forced removals in the 60s, and also, frankly, people not being able to afford to live centrally. [it's kind of expensive to do if you're not living five people to a house].

i think i'll stop there because i want some sleep.

17 March 2010

accent américain comme coup fourré!

so, i went clubbing saturday night. ran into some friends of mine, hung out with them until the clubs closed.

one of them asked me to walk him home, as the metered cabs were acting stupid, since the cape argus main race was on sunday morning, and they were asking R50 for R20 and R30 fares.

so i walked him home to sea point, and then went to watch the setup for the finish line of the cape argus race.

as i left beach road -- the race ends along the boardwalk -- to get a minibus taxi to go home, i was stopped by a policeman. i got 20 questions as to why i was there. "this is a known drug dealing area," they say. i don't think they were prepared for my response: i know, but i figured with the bike race setting up, the dealers wouldn't be out in full force like they usually are.

me 1, bacon 0

so the cop says, still not turning down his blue lights, which are blinding me, "we're allowed to do a stop and search. can i search you?" me: i would prefer if you didn't, but if you feel you must. that's right, i did say i don't want you do fucking search me.

me 2, bacon 1 [he did in fact search me]

inside my wallet he found my old uwc identification. i kept it for reasons like this. and it led to a few questions about how long i've been in the country and stuff. i told him five years on and off, waving that american accent around like the weatherman on e-news.

he asked me what nationality i was, and i told him american. i then said, "you know, i know i look nigerian. i'm pretty sure that's where we got on the boat a couple of hundred years ago. even nigerians speak to me in nigerian languages, so it's not just you. but i really hope you're not going to be like this to foreign africans during the world cup." the look on his face: priceless.

me 3, bacon 1

it's going to be really fucking interesting during the world cup. cameroon has a game here, and england, france, portugal, as well as holland -- cameroon's opponent in the game here -- all have substantial black followings, many of whom live in africa or the diaspora.

it's going to be real interesting. watch this space.

09 March 2010

passport control woes

so, the cape argus cycle tour is coming up. the organizers of the cycle tour scored a major coup in getting lance armstrong to attend.

lance arrived last nite. well, sort of.

see, for south africa [as well as namibia and lesotho], you need to have two blank pages in your passport, or they won't let you in. rubbish.

as i said on crackbook, this does not fare well for world cup visitors from other parts of africa, especially people flying from the united states or europe on african passports. you see, with african passports, you need visas for almost everywhere, and you are very likely to fall foul of this while flying to south africa for the world cup.

this has been mentioned in thought leader, and i'm going to give a bit of advice stemming from this article. if you are flying into joburg and fall foul of this, they will deport you. instead of letting them deport you back to the country from whence you came, ask to be deported to swaziland, which doesn't have this rule. if you're a first-worlder, there's probably an embassy for your country in swaziland, so you can quick get some extra pages. if you're not a first-worlder, then you may have to stay in swaziland for a few days until your passport can be replaced in pretoria. depending on the country, it's very likely that you might miss the matches for which you have tickets. it may be a good idea to consult your embassy before embarking. oddly enough, he very presciently says "i wonder if they're going to say anything about this for the world cup"... and if you look closely, the blog entry was written in 2008.

also, in the comments section of that thought leader entry, i've mentioned some really crappy experiences that i've had at the hands of immigration officials. [you should be able to spot it fairly easily.]

but it was worth a chuckle. and even a black-belt traveller like lance hints at the phallic nature of the passport control officials in this situation.

08 March 2010

mario balotelli

okay, i'm a bit fucked off at this guy. for those who don't know who he is, he plays for inter. he's turned down a chance to play for ghana [his birth parents are ghanaian] and he's holding out for italy, which, for many reasons, probably won't happen.

if it doesn't happen for the world cup, group f in the world cup will be the only group with no black players. [there's an off chance that someone might make the team in paraguay, but it's unlikely.] maybe someone will read this and marcello lippi will have a change of heart. however, this isn't a plea for lippi to include balotelli; quite the opposite, actually. the shameful way in which he's treated his birth parents should be a good enough reason that he should wait until brazil 2014, at least, to play in a world cup.

see, his birth parents left him to live with other people when he was two. in not-western_europe, this is fairly common practice: you leave your kid with other people if you don't think you can take care of them, and they raise him until such point you can take them back. or, if you can't take them back, you at least see them to check in occasionally -- and the checking in goes both ways, actually.

balotelli feels that his birth parents are only after him for his money. this is a touchy one. can't people just be proud? back when i was in the semi-public eye, various relatives of mine who i never knew were saying "yes, he's one of us, even though his mother took him and disappeared and we only saw him maybe once a year, if that, until he was out of high school."

but see, my mother was really big on the restavek thing [restavek is what this system is called in haiti, from "rester avec" meaning, literally "to stay with"]. there were other random children in my house when i was a kid. i thought it was normal. my parents could provide the right atmosphere, so why not?

another undercurrent of balotelli is the whole race thing. he's fairly routinely racially abused at serie a matches. you know, i'm usually really against the racial abuse in football, but after the way he igged his parents for doing what they thought was best, i'm like... good. maybe he needs to hear it. there's an undercurrent that lippi won't give balotelli the nod because italian supporters won't agree with someone black playing for italy. italy is about the only pre-1997 EU country who hasn't had a black player at the national level. even switzerland, with its ridiculous requirements for citizenship, has had black players.

but i think balotelli needs to grow up a bit more before he can get a nod.

the underlying racism in europe is one of the reasons i don't live there anymore. to this day i refuse to speak french in france, even though it's my first language. if i'm speaking french in france, then i'm an african who must be deported. but if i'm speaking english, it's often american enough that people want to practice their english with me. funnily enough, i get the exact same feeling/treatment in south africa. [it's a shame that my system can't take any more attacks by mosquitoes, or else i'd be gone from here, too.]

i was very much tempted to make a podcast of this, in italian, in the event someone tipped him off to this, but no, i'll keep it in english. for now. we'll see.

04 March 2010

but where are you from-from?

so, i woke up first thing this morning and saw this article in the guardian. the second i saw it, i just had a major, major laugh.

but she has a valid point.

to be non-white in britain is to have your right to be in britain automatically questioned. it's really annoying. heh. i could actually do something like "s/britain/any european country" and it would still be true. nothing can ruin a night out more than walking home and seeing some cops who promptly say "can i see your papers?" and of course, they will use "tu" instead of "vous" or "usted" or "você". it's times like that when i speak english with an american accent, since i just can't be bothered with such silly racism from the cops.

of course, if you're light-skinned or look "mixed" then it's not as much of an issue. the assumption becomes "oh, your mother is white, your dad is from wherever" and are you are at least treated like a citizen. even more so if it seems that you plan on lightening the line from your choice of partner.

some people i know get really touchy about this, especially non-dark black americans who relocate to europe. god. i often get to the point where an internet discussion gets so heated that i have to remind myself about what they say regarding arguments on the internet*.

in most places i've lived, people have just assumed i'm nigerian. even other nigerians. i'm actually okay with this. it's funny though, even when i was living in senegal, my boyfriend's father called me obasanjo [and our gabonese friend he called bongo].

in south africa, however, to be considered nigerian is very problematic. funnily enough, there's an apartment that i have my eye on that i probably will not be able to rent because even though it's fantastically renovated, it's in a building that is in the process of gentrification, with a large percentage of its current residents being foreign africans, some of whom are troublemakers, resulting in an "all immigrants are horrible" sentiment, some of which also mean regular raids by the police. oh well. i have until october to figure out how i'm going to do things.

anyway, back to the daily grind.

*you know the one -- arguing on the internet is like being in the special olympics: even if you win, you're still retarded.