Tag Archives: language

This is an interesting place to live.

The power was out this afternoon when I got home from church. I did not immediately notice this fact for two reasons: one, at 13 hours the natural sunlight is perfectly sufficient for lighting needs, and two, my neighbor Moses was watching a medical drama on his computer, so the building was hardly devoid of mechanical noises. It came back again before I had to lunch on sunlight-thawed frozen leftovers (I wasn’t trying to freeze the rice, but I did want to make sure that the sausage stayed frozen while I was in Choma last week, with the result that I accidentally froze just about everything in the fridge), which I was quite pleased about. The power went out again while I was showering, or possibly before that, while I was doing my laundry (I didn’t notice for much the same reasons as the first time), and I think it was very decent of it to allow me to make lunch. Here’s hoping for supper.

I spent four days in Choma last week learning Tonga. I have decided that the most difficult thing about Tonga (at least initially), aside from a total lack of cognates and commonality to English or Germanic or Romance languages, is that the consonants are not the same. They may look the same when written down, but it seems to me to be a convention generally agreed upon that sounds that are not really present in the English language will be represented by certain letters. K, for example, is rather more like G than like K, although softer than actual G (which is also present), so that the word kwena (nothing) is said more like ‘gwena’ than like ‘kwena,’ though not as forcefully as the name Gwen. Except for the occasions when it isn’t; I’m pretty sure that ndakuta (I am full/satisfied) is ‘dakuta,’ not ‘daguta.’ There’s also the sound that I’ve been calling ‘nyah’ in my head. No one seems to agree on how to spell this one, though the book we’ve been using most seems to use ng’, as in ng’anda, home. One of the other books says that it’s like the first N in ‘onion,’ which is sort-of is, but it’s more nasal than that, and it hangs longer.

There’s no distinction in Tonga between the letters L and R. It’s all written L, but in speech it may range anywhere between the two, and won’t necessarily be the same for two instances of the same word. (This carries over into English, too, so that Chris is as likely to be ‘Chlis’ as ‘Chris.’ No one’s tried to call me Miliam, though.) And B is a much softer sound than in English; like a Spanish B, it’s very close to V. At least for this one, I have practice in softening my Bs. And then there’s C, which is pronounced more like J, or perhaps Y, except for certain situations in which it’s CH, which possibly happens when it follows N? So the word cuuno, stool, I want to spell ‘juno,’ but with a soft j.

The other thing that’s difficult about Tonga is that there are different classes (‘modes’?) of nouns. I haven’t even been able to figure out if we’re declining them, or if they’re like gendered nouns, only there are too many genders, or what. But things change based on what noun you’re using, and I never know how. Luckily for me, I understand this so incompletely that it is not yet troubling me at all.

In good news, so far as I can tell, Tonga doesn’t conjugate verbs at all, just sticks extra little words in to indicate past or future, and adds a pronoun-prefix to indicate the subject (ndalumba is ‘I am thankful,’ and twalumba is ‘We are thankful’). And I don’t have to learn numbers, because Tonga only has numbers up to five, so everyone just uses English numbers.

Our lessons included cultural content in addition to just language.

Maureen, our teacher, showed us how to make two relishes, one cabbage and one bean-and-meat

Maureen, our teacher, showed us how to make two relishes, one cabbage and one bean-and-meat

Including the terrifying way to chop cabbage without a cutting board.

Including the terrifying way to chop cabbage without a cutting board.

We also made nsima (‘shima’), cornmeal dough. It’s white, and thicker than cornmeal mush (though also smoother), and the flavor is similar, but not as pronounced.

Chris isn't quite as tall as he looks in this picture.  But I do only come up to his shoulder.

Chris isn't quite as tall as he looks in this picture. But I do only come up to his shoulder.

All in all, we had a good time, and I look forward to more lessons with Maureen over the next few months. I had minor adventures on the minibus getting back to Macha (seventeen people in a van with five rows of seats!), but there is not a permanent ridge in my legs, the mysterious greasy smear wore off, and the utter destruction of my new canvas recycled plastic bottle bag was not more than a minor inconvenience, the milk did not leak too badly, and was not sour when I got home.

In culinary adventures, I made yogurt last night, and I have five avocados that I saw on the tree.



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Attack of the Capitalized Words, in which Miriam muses about Life, Languange, and Confidence

Today I went to lunch with Reyes, my premajor advisor (my ex-advisor?). She’s in the Spanish department, but I generally interact with her through the computer labs; computers make her terribly anxious, and she’s come in a couple of times when I was working, and I’ve been able to walk her through stuff. This most recent time I helped her re-scan a bunch of readings that were mysteriously not working sometimes, and she offered to take me to lunch. I quite happily accepted (while returning to Smith’s salad bar makes me very happy after a semester of iceberg and canned corn and canned shredded carrots and white asparagus, the “yay, home food,” effect only goes so far). We went to Amanous, a really really yummy Morrocan place, and talked – a lot about Spain (and differences between Spain and the US), but also about The State of the World Today and entymology and the random things that one talks about in conversations.

It reminded me incredibly of being back in Spain. Not even really speaking in Spanish, necessarily – but perhaps it has to do with the way that I comport myself when speaking Spanish outside of the classroom. I spent a lot of time in Spain being an Adult, conversing as an adult, moving through the world as an adult.

I’m not even entirely sure that I can explain the difference. Part of it has to do with being an Authority in My Own Right (about my experiences in Spain, or about What Things Are Like In The United States) and part about being a complete equal with the person I’m speaking with. I don’t feel this way when talking in class, even about things I’m confident on, or explaining computer stuff to faculty – perhaps that has to do with a certain care on my part not to be a know-it-all student Bringing The Light Of Modern Technology To The Fogies. It’s different that talking to the father of a friend who’s known me since I was wee little and still calls me Mim. I don’t even feel this way talking to my friends; perhaps there’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe we’re grownups; not like real-world grownups, and while I feel comfortable, having intriging discussions with my friends tends not to give me this feeling of grownupness.

Possibly I’m so aware of feeling confident in Spanish because I spent a lot of time and effort getting to where my Spanish is now, and I can clearly remember when it wasn’t that way. Eight years ago I couldn’t form a single complete sentence in Spanish. Today I held an entire lunch conversation in Spanish with a professor, and about the only times I needed to use English was when I couldn’t remember the words for carrots or beets, or we discussed the connotations of cheap (which isn’t to say that it was flawless; there were a couple of times when I got my tongue terribly tangled, and when we discussed the fact that I’m taking Portuguese, Reyes mentioned that I was using os for los and as veces (azvezez) for a veces (a vethes), but I was never at a loss for words). I don’t remember a time when I was less than competent in English, and so it does not surprise me that I’m good at it.

I’m a little bit different than I was before I went to Spain. Even this lunch is an example of it. I’m having trouble imagining myself in that situation before going abroad. Certainly not in Spanish – or at least, not nearly so fluently – but maybe not in English either. Although now that I think about it, I did spend an entire afternoon last summer hanging out with sarah-marie belcastro. But we were painting a large mesh pig yellow at the time, so I really don’t know if that counts.

I don’t know if that’s clear or not.

I haven’t forgotten about the pictures that I promised to post; I just haven’t gotten around to it. I hope that you haven’t all deserted me because I didn’t post for forever. I’ll try to post a bit more regularly from now on. I don’t have another fencing tournament until April, and that may help.


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Language and Further Adventures in American Cooking in a Spanish Kitchen

Cut, as per usual, for longwindedness.


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As American as tarta de manzana?

It’s cold today. I had to wear a jacket this morning. I know, I know, my life is so difficult.
I’m really amused by hearing people here talking about “winter,” though. On Sunday I was wearing sandals and a t-shirt. This is not winter. It’s barely autumn. I will admit that tile floors make the apartment colder, but not as cold as people act like it is.

food, and perhaps other rambling


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