1-11 Language Geekery, part 2

I’m sure this comes as a shock to everyone, but I’m trying to learn the local language here. I know that it will have no “practical” application after I leave, but I see no reason that that should stop me. I may be heading down a road towards a master’s in linguistics, which means one more language is a good thing, and I may be heading down the road of amateur linguistics which still means the more languages the merrier. Besides, I just like language.

So, here are some random and interesting aspects of the local language, referred to as Apma. Apma means “what,” which is the name word for all the languages of Pentecost. For instance, ske is “what” in Ske and sa is “what” in Sa.

In Apma, the verb does not conjugate for tenses. Instead, the pronoun conjugates. So, where in English we would say “I eat,” “I ate,” and “I will eat,” in Apma we say “I(present) eat,” “I(past) eat,” and “I(future) eat.” If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The future me is performing the same action as the present me or the past me, so there is no reason to change the action. Instead, you change the agent. Cool, right? (Jason would like to point out at this juncture that this fits in well with Buddhist philosophy. The idea that the agent changes, not the action is very much in line with the tenants of Buddhism that he’s been reading.)

Another fun linguistic feature is possessives. I’m not sure I have them all sorted out yet, but I think I’m getting there. The word for mine-to-eat is kak, the word for mine-to-drink is mak, the word for mine-that-I-can-carry/buy-at-the-store is nok, the word for mine-that-has-life is bilak and everything that is mine-and-is-attached-to-me ends in –ek.¬

Let me expand on that. The word for pig is bo. (Just a side note, the more used a word is in a language, the shorter it tends to be. Pigs are important here.) So, my pig as it is running around the village, is bilak bo. However, my dead pig is nok bo and my pig that is currently in the stew pot is kak bo. The nok words are a little harder to get one’s head around, or at least the distinction between nok and –ek. My eyes are matek and my house is vwalek but my shoe is nok but. I think that might be because but is imported, though I’m not sure on that.

The important phrases we learned in Apma, that is the phrases that we learned first and have had reinforced over and over:

Mam sini – your kava – said as it is ready for you to come drink
Kom lele apma – what are you doing? – we get this a lot
Kom amni sini – are you drinking kava?
Nat amni sini te – I’m finished drinking kava
Kot epme ibeh¬ – where are you going? – this is the equivalent of “what’s up?” or “how are you?”
Ren mwamak – good day – for use any time before evening
Bong mwamak – Good night – used for greeting or parting
Kobiah – thank you to a single person
Kabiah – thank you to a group of people – used when leaving the nakamal for the night and thanking everyone for their work in making kava

You note the number of these phrases that center around kava. Jason has a ready made language lesson every night he goes to drink kava, the problem is the scope of conversation. On the other hand, kava is fair game for conversation any time for men, so I guess it works out alright for him.

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