Monday, April 20, 2009

Speaking Namlish

We no longer speak English, we speak Namlish!  

Namibia was settled by England and Germany, so the English that is spoken has the British vocabulary. Our vocabulary has been infused with British words like rubbish, car boot, and high care ward as opposed to emergency and so on. Because Namibia was ruled by Afrikaner-speaking South Africans, and Rundu is on the border of Portuguese-speaking Angola, and there are many different tribal groups in the area, communication can be a challenge. We are consistently impressed with people we know who can understand 7 or more languages

Namibia became an English speaking country 19 years ago at independence and so there are many people that struggle to speak it as it was never part of the older generations education. The younger generation is now being taught by many teachers who don't have a strong understanding of the language so there are words and sayings that are meant to be “English” but would never be used anywhere else. We speak much more slowly now and our sentences structure has even changed.  

There are a lot of verbal and non-verbal communications that are now a part of our every day life and here are just some examples.

Greetings: When shaking hands, you often clap three times first as a sign of respect.  When greeting someone who is older than me or has a higher position of authority I place my left hand on my right forearm as we shake hands and women do a little curtsy dip as a sign of respect.  When greeting a closer friend the hug includes kisses on both cheeks. Hand shakes are often prolonged and the conversation will continue as you hold hands.  When passing someone, it is customary to greet, then say "ok" as you end the greeting, which in Rukwangali is "ewah" (eh-waaaah). “Ewah” can also be used as an acceptable greeting/acknowledgement of presence if you are passing the person more than once in the same day.

Asking questions:  In the Kwangali culture, a whole conversation can be had without words.  If I want something that is visible, I must only clap my hands and point at the object.  The person that I am asking has a few possible ways of answering me.  There is the eyebrow raise which indicates yes, the chin jut that indicated yes, or the eyes looking to the side which means no.  If I can take the item, I may pick the item up and clap a thanks with a little curtsy dip or if handed the item take it with my right hand while my left hand rests on my right forearm.  A perfectly acceptable way of saying no is indicated by the twisting of the hand, and generally used if the item is not there or they cannot help you.

Getting someone's attention: Here in Rundu one must be very careful about how you wave hello.  The hand must be showed palm forward and shaken in a side to side manner.  If you try to say hello by holding your hand still and moving your fingers up and down it means “come here”! Also it is customary to get someone's attention verbally by calling them “nane” (nah-neh - mother) or “tate” (tah-teh - father).  This applies to everyone who is older than you.  If they are younger than you, you can call them kado (kah-doe)(girl) or boyi (boy-ee)(boy).

I'm coming now now: When one is going somewhere and will be right back, we would say "I'll be right back".  Here, you say "I'm coming ".  The 'now now' means I am coming back within fifteen minutes to a half hour.  'I'm coming now' gives the person about an hours time frame, and if they simple say 'I'm coming' it means that they will come back at some point during the day!

Neh?: This is very similar to the Canadian, “eh”. It is used to qualify or verify information or to make sure that the listener understood the speaker's intention.  If I am talking to someone and I want to make sure that I understood correctly then I will say "You are going to town to get some food, neh?"  Then she can answer yes or no to verify that I have heard her correctly.  It can also be used just to add emphasis to the end of a sentence.  

Izit?: In Afrikaans, which also heavily influences Namlish, it is very common to verify a statement with 'izit?'.  I think at home we would say 'is that true', 'really, I didn't know that', or 'I've never heard that before'. Daryl has adopted this well, sometimes too well! Also, “so?” (pronounced “Tsoe” but the “o” is held for about a second) is a variation on this.

Of course this is just a small sample of some of the language differences and who knows what you will hear coming from our mouths! I need to give credit to Kimmie, who wrote the outline of this entry initially to her friends and family so she did the bulk of the work!

To view some pictures of some random signs taken in Namibia click here:


Julia said...

Ahhh, the linguist in me loves this blog entry, neh?

cindja said...

I am a medical student in South Africa and I also come from Rundu.
Thanks for your dedication,commitment and effort spend in making a diffence in Rundu people's lives.

Your blogs are really detailed and quite entertaining (?sarcasm filled) as if it ai'nt reality.
"Nampili kwata okwateoku, nye Rundu zapita tupu komutjima" lol (: