January 14, 2012

Sudan: Learning Arabic

I spend most of my day down in a pit, alone. This does not foster personal interaction, which is usually what helps one learn a language. However, I do manage to communicate, using the following list of words. (For any Arabic speakers: note that pronunciation and certain words here are very different from Classical or basically any other Arabic dialect. There’s a lot of African influence on the language.) Tamam – OK, all right, fine. A-salaam aleikum – the traditional greeting. The response is wa-aleikum salaam. This is often shortened to a-salaam. Al-hamdel’allah – Thanks to God. You can put these together into the typical greeting around here: A: A-salaam! Tamam?            B: Tamam!             A: Al-hamdel’allah! Instead of (or in addition to) tamam in the response, you can say mia-mia (100%) or aybu igri, Walid’s favorite sarcastic/over exaggerated Nubian phrase meaning “I am weeping”. You can also say good morning,sabach il-khayr, which literally means “morning light”. The response is sabach in-noor, “beautiful morning”. While you are tamaming, you must shake hands. Everyone shakes hands, and everyone is greeted; I believe it is impolite to skip someone, so Safa will often come back across the yard if she notices she’s missed someone. Children will also shake hands with each guest. There is no restriction of male-female touching in greeting. I learned that hugging is the traditional greeting in South Sudan, but here it is only for people who are very close. If you want to emphatically greet someone, you hit their shoulder with your left hand while shaking with your right. If you are meeting someone for the forst time, you can ask their name: ma ismak? And you can introduce yourself: ismi Stacy. Afterwards you can say tasarafna (nice to meet you) or Al-hamdel’allah, or tamam, or some combination of these. Away is yes and la is no. To negate something, however, the word is mish, which gets confusing since mish  is also a type of cumin-garlic yogurt and a peach. What if you don’t want yogurt? Mish mish. No peaches? Also mish mish. Kwais is good. To compliment Mohammed’s food, I point and say kwais! To tell the workers something they’ve done is not good, I say mish kwais. I have also learned a lengthy list of archaeological words, such as: Ramla – sandMushtarin – trowel Korek – shovel Kis – bag (which is confusing as it refers to both the sugar sacks for removing sand and the small plastic bags for storing artifacts) Silim – ladder Adom – bones (this is of African origin and unrelated to the Semitic root a-d-m אדמ) Hina – here (this is related to Hebrew hinei) Sibu alle kidde/hina – leave it like that/here Hawa – wind. We don’t like wind, it makes us aybu igri. We especially don’t like when it’s hawa kitir, strong wind, or when hawa is accompanied by od, cold (in Nubian). Mumkin – maybe Yimkin – possibly Shukran is thank you; people don’t say please here, they suggest – Walid, mumkin kis hina, shukran is a typical request (asking Walid to bring a sack to me). Bukra – tomorrow. Has a similar connotation to mañana in Spanish. It’ll happen, sometime. If you ask someone mumkin bukra? The answer is yimkin, meaning “never gonna happen.” Similarly, one can askwer insh’allah, “if God wills it” – but God doesn’t often will it. It is also important to be able to count, mostly to ask for certain numbers of items or to tell time. I can count to five: wahed, itneen, talata, arba, hamsa; I can also say the tens: ashra, eshrin, talatin, etc.  100 ismia. Another useful phrase is wahed-wahed, meaning “I’m coming/ just one minute”, which is similar to shweya-shweya, “slowly, relax”. If the workmen point at my wrist, I can say wahed-talatin, shweya-shweya! At the end we can say halas, “finished.” So for today halas!

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