Sunday, December 5, 2010

Luganda and Ugandan English

Here is what I know so far and can use when speaking with a Ugandan:

Odi Otya? - Casual greeting, like how are you

Jendi - response to odi otya, saying youre doing well

Wasuze otya-no, (ssebo or nyabo)?- How did you sleep last night, (sir or maam)?

Bulungi/Bubi - Responses: Well, not well

Kaale - okay

_____ sente mekka? - ______ costs what?

Mpa ku _____ - Give me ______ (apparently the ‘ku’ makes it less of a demand and more of a polite request)

Webale - Thank you

Welaba - Goodbye

Nvudeo - I’m back (response to “Welcome back” which I can’t remember but is very easy to recognize when someone says it to me)

Tuula - Sit down (has come in handy at the school)

Wanji? - Yes? (response for when someone calls)

Ku stage - Stop (for when you are on a bus, taxi and need to get off)

M’zungu, M’dugavu - white, black (person)

- As I escort kids home from school tonsss of kids in the village come out and yell ‘Bye, Mzungu!” and the teachers have taught me to respond, “Bye, M’dugavu!” but I’m not sure if it might be offensive or not so I try not to say it when adults are around, hahah.

Maazi - water (not to be confused with mazii, which means feces)

Smart vs. clever - When you look nice, they say ‘you are smart,’ or when a house is nice or a hotel is new and modern, they call it ‘smart.’ When people reference someone’s intelligence they often use ‘clever’ instead.

Here, a “rubber” refers to an eraser, (not a condom). This startled me a little when one of my students first asked for one.

Pronunciation: The way Ugandans chose to pronounce certain words is sometimes by sounding out every letter. It’s especially noticeable when they sound out silent vowels at the end of the word. For example someone named Irene is pronounced “Irene-ey,” and the word clothes is pronounced “clothe-es.” Since lots of names either have an e or y at the end, they seem to get into the habit of adding the “ie” sound to the end of lots of names, even turning “Brian” into “Brian-ey.”

BUT Ugandans also sometimes choose to omit the end vowel. For example, lots of kids had a problem learning my name because they wanted to call me teacher Luc, no matter how many times we pronounced it for them emphasizing the y.

Sometimes these little quirks get put together and a word or phrase is skewed into something with a totally different meaning. One day I was trying to teach English words for transport and gave the students a sentence about taxi fare. Their selective omission ends up having them pronounce this as “tax fairy.” Even the teachers pronounce it like this. As you can imagine, things like this can make it hard to communicate a Ugandan even if they’re fluent in English.

As I’ve referenced before, they also say “Sank You” because their language doesn’t have the “th” sound. It’s easier for the little kids to adapt and learn the sound than it is for the adults, though.

Another difficulty for them is mixing up R’s and L’s. Everything in their language with an R is pronounced with the sound of an L. Sometimes this confusion translates into English and is even switched around. I was listening in on the kids’ concert rehearsal when a girl named Favour had a solo about wanting to be a pilot, and it sounded an awfully lot like she really wanted to be a pirate. Annie said other volunteers who heard the song heard the same thing.

It’s actually pretty cute when the kids make these little mistakes and once you learn the different way they pronounce things you get used to it and can kind of do a translation from Ugandan to American English. I’m not sure how much of a negative impact it would have on them to speak the “Ugandan English” as far as getting into a University in an English-speaking country or something like that but I hope that by the time anyone gets to the point where they could even apply to a school outside of Africa, they will have learned the proper way to pronounce everything. So I haven’t been super hard on them for correcting these little quirks. It’s especially hard when they’re learning them from their own English teacher, but again, maybe they will learn better later on in their education. That is, if they are able to get past Ttega and afford a secondary school…



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