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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pulaar Lesson

I speak Pulaar 100% of the time in village.  In Teyel, people speak two main dialects: Pulafuta and Fulakunda.  They’re similar enough that I can understand both, but my comprehension is minimal at best (it has only been a few months, after all).  Sometimes it’s overwhelming being submerged by constant waves of speech that I can’t comprehend.  For the most part, though, I love it.  Pulaar is a fun language.  It’s beautiful to hear.  It’s light and lilting, with lots of soft consonants and “anni” sounds, and none of the harsh guttural “ach”s of a Germanic language (although “ach”s are fun too!)  It’s very different from English, which makes it fascinating to learn, etymologically.  Here are some of my favorite things about Pulaar so far:

Firstly and most importantly, greetings.  Pulaars love to state the obvious.  The first thing they say to you will probably be your first and last name.  You respond to this by either stating their name (if you know it) or by saying “nam”…yes, that’s my name.  Next, they’ll say “A fini?”(you woke up?) “A ñalli?”(you’re spending the afternoon?) “a hiri?” (you’re spending the evening?) or simply “a 2oo?”(you’re here?) or “a joodo?” (you’re sitting?).  If you’re actually doing something when they greet you, they’ll state it.  “A boppi girte?” (you’re shelling peanuts?) “A tuppi ndiyam?” (you’re getting water from the well?)  The response for any of these greetings is “jam tan,” which literally means “peace only.”  They’ll then say “tanna finani?”(evil did not awaken?)  “tanaa ñallani?” (evil is not spending the afternoon?) “tanaa hiranni?”(evil is not spending the evening?) or simply “tanaa alaa?” (no evil?) and you’’ll say “jam tan.” (peace only).  Either they’ll acknowledge that it’s all good with a slow “Yoooooo” or they’ll ask about your family, the heat, whether you slept well, if you've eaten lunch yet…the answer to everything is “jam tan” and a smile.  Peace only.

They use the words “waawi” and “waawaa” a lot.  Literally, that means “can” and “can’t,” but it’s used to a greater extent in Pulaar than in English.  I’ve been told that I waawi yimde and pulaar (I can sing and I can pulaar), but also that I waawi saba (I can skirt?  That they like my skirt?  That I wear a skirt well? Either way, I think it's good) and that I waawi gutee baawo (I can braided hairstyle).  Of course, there are also dozens of things I waawaa.  I waawaa lecciri (I can’t couscous), I waawaa amgol (I can’t dance) and I waawaa pulaar.  Sometimes I both waawi and wawaa pulaar in the same two-minute conversation.

There are two words for “the” in French (la and le) and three in german (der, die, das).  Pulaar has twenty three words for “the”, and those words also mean “that” or “those.”  For example, “the boat” is “laana kaa” – “that boat” is “kaa laana.”  You can’t ask “whose is that” or “what is that” without knowing which article to use.  It’s confusing, but fun, like a puzzle.

The word for “very” is “buy.”  To say something is pretty, you say it’s weydi, and to say it’s very pretty, it’s weydi buy.  The word for a person is neddo.  To say someone is nice or pleasant to be around, you say they’re “neddo buy”…literally, they’re very much a person.


Pulaar is verb-heavy.  There’s a verb for everything.  There are separate verbs for to wash your face, to wash your feet, to wash yourself, to wash your clothes, and to wash your dishes, instead of just using one verb that means “wash.”  If you don’t have a verb that means exactly what you want, you make it using infixes.  An infix is like a prefix or a suffix, but it goes in the middle of a verb.  For example, the infix “inkin” means “to pretend to.”  “mi faami” means “I understand,” and “mi faaminkini” means “I pretend to understand.”  This can make for some pretty precise verbs, such as “mi loontinkini”, meaning “I pretend to carry on my head.”  The reliance on verbs is the hardest thing about pulaar so far.  If someone uses a specific verb that I don’t know, I have no idea what they want.  I can’t figure the verb out through context using the other words in the sentence because often there are no other words in the sentence.

The word “mbeewa” means goat, and sounds like the sound a goat makes.  “Mbaalu” is sheep, and sounds like a sheep. “Liyyu” means hiccup, and sounds like a hiccup. The word “mala” doesn't sound like anything, but it means both “luck” and “butterfly”, which is adorable.

I think that’s enough Pulaar for one day, haha.  As always, thanks for reading!  There are only three weeks left to donate to the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship fund, so get on that if you’re interested.  The donation page is here and any amount helps. No donation is too small!