Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Lexicon of Zam-isms

The internet here in Mansa today is bwangubwangu, so I thought I'd take advantage and catch you all up on my life. Bwangu is Bemba for fast, which is a wonderful lead in to my topic of the day: Zam lingo. My father informs me that I don't, for all my communication, actually say much about Africa, so I will do my best to educate you on the wonderful world of Zambian semantics.

Aside from the fact that most of my life is now conducted in Bemba, English is the official language of the country. In fact, most people have a rudimentary grasp on English in the towns, and you can function exceedingly well without knowing any local language in the big cities like Lusaka and Ndola. In the more rural areas, the best I usually get is "How ah yoo, how ah you!" shouted at me by the kids as I ride by. The most common form of greeting here is directly translated into "How are you?" so that's where they get it. Anyway, this pervasiveness of Engish has led to an emergence of what is commonlly called amoung Volunteers here as Zamlish. There are strange nuances and habits that Zambians have when talking to eachother, and you, and they come out so funny on the English end that I just have to talk about some of my favorite points:

-First of all, Zambians repeat verbs for emphasis like I did at the beginning. Within a few months, us musungus are saying things like "fastfast," "badbad" and "scaryscary", because that's what it comes out as from our counterparts.

-"Iwe" is a pronoun meaning "you". It is used both literally, as well as slang like "Hey you!" or "kid"/"homie". The women will shout for their children (also, shouting in the village is the most common form of communication with your neighbors)to the tune of "Mweewa iwe!!" or "Daniel iwe!" Then you know they're in trouble. You can also say "imwe" with respect, but I am waiting for the day when one of my new friends/neightbors hollers "iwe" to me. Then I know for sure that I'm part of the community and no longer an outsider.

-"Just there": for some reason, the qulaification of "just" is more popular in Bantu languages, so it will pop up in English all the time. This, plus the inherent Zambian vaguness when it comes to directions and distance, many things like houses, markets, shops, and meeting are "just there" *wave hand to the left or right*. It's an actual place here. My favorite is turning it back on Zambians, usually the irritating dudes that whistle and holler and ask me where I live. I smile and wave ambiguiously with a "just there." HA!

-There is no "l" in many Bantu dialects, and the sound that an l will make is kinda fused with the "r" sound. Incidintly, my mother's name is the biggest liguistical challenge for anyone willing to ask me (Lorrie, which comes out closer to Ow-eei). Inasmuch, the suffix -ful is dropped from many adjectives. My friend proudly announced to me upon seeing one of my pictures that "your family is very beautiff!" It's one of my favorites.

-Also, Zambians have a habit of repeating what you just said right back to you. At first I thought this was just because I was making a mistake and they were trying to clarify through my patchy bemba or their patchy English, but no. I've heard Zambians doing it to each other. "I am headed to town today." "Oh, you are headed to town today?" "Yes, I am headed to town today." They are a very patient and thorough people...

These are all I can think of right now. When I get back to America and am talking strangely, now you all know why. Even the English is different here.

Things are going well in my village. Can't wait to actually get some projects going, but that's just me full of zeal and ambition... Had a fantastic birthday with my neighbor. We biked 30k to Mumbalumba Falls, and it was amazing. Hope all is well at home. And keep sending those letters! Love you all...


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