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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a tip... there is a key on your keyboard called Shift that when you press it, and press another key at the same time, it capitalises the letter.

Capital letters are used for the first letter of the first word at the beginning of sentences and for names, places and so forth.