Friday, March 24, 2006

Namblish Survival Guide

This is meant to illustrate some of the quirks I’ve observed so far in communicating in Namibia’s official language. Here are some of the more commonly used phrases and Namblishisms:

Nay – This appended to the end of a sentence indicates a question, as in “This is poisonous, nay?” but more often used as a way of seeking understanding, as in

Volunteer # 1: “So I got a hike in a donkey cart, nay.”
Volunteer # 2: Mmmmn.

Volunteer #2 has politely showed he’s listening. It’s rude if you listen quietly, a guttural mmmn is infinitely better than “oh” or “really” which is it’s closest approximation in English. If the story were meant to astound volunteer # 2, the more expansive “IS it” would be better.

Volunteer # 1: “So I ate a donkey today.”
Volunteer # 2 : “IS it.”

However, it can just indicate that the person isn’t really listening to what you’re saying. It’s that universal. A lot of volunteers use this one – it’s actually the name of the Peace Corps newsletter here – but I find it annoying when speaking to another American. I mentioned in my email about the difference between an American conception of “now” and its interpretation here in Namibia. Upon further study I’ve concluded it lacks any temporal significance. It’s just a polite thing to calm Americans. I prefer to stick to the guttural, non-verbal communication which I’m actually pretty good at. The other one that springs to mind is the habit of learners to make a pig snort sound which is actually not funny here, it’s just a way of clearing your throat. I will briefly list some of the funny learner phrases:

“TEACHER, THIS ONE HE IS BEATING ME!” This I hear all the time. With equal frequency it’s actually a girl doing the beating, but because there's no gender for pronouns in Otjiherero the kids don’t really use he/she appropriately. The girls are also a lot bigger than the boys on average and they do beat on the boys a fair bit of the time.

“Borrow me a pen” – this is easily explained as lend and borrow are the same word in Afrikaans. There’s also the Britishisms (South Africa took over after Germany was defeated in WWI), cars have bonnets and drive on the left side of the tar road. At school writing a test is what the learners do while teachers are invigilating. Too much of this will cause learners to complain that “my head, it is paining.”

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