Monday, November 26, 2012

Re tla bua Sesotho hamonate...

Lumelang Bakhotsi (Hello Friends),

I've been promising an entry on Sesotho for awhile now. Maybe I should have done it sooner. We, but especially I, have undergone some interesting transitions in learning the language of Lesotho. For starters, yes, English is one of the official languages here, but it's usefulness in the way of communication can vary widely! Sesotho is the language that most children grow up speaking in their homes, in some areas of Lesotho there is also the Xhosa language - but that is a lot more prominent in RSA. When the British and the Missionaries came they instituted mandatory instruction exclusively in English begining in the 4th grade. Some teachers still beat the children if they hear them speaking Sesotho during lunch. Regardless, this can look really different depending on where you are. In remote places, you can usually find someone in a village who you can have very basic communication with in English, but it is mostly Sesotho feela(only). Basotho are also extremely self-conscious about grammar (I can't imagine how they feel listening to our Sesotho!) so, even if they know English somewhat, they will try to get out of speaking it, if they aren't cofident in their grammar. In the camptowns and especially in Maseru, English is really common and most of the ex-pats living in Maseru don't worry about knowing very much Sesotho (though they really emphasize its importance to us...) At the same time, there is the component of the British English influnce, this can range from pronounciation differences to the trunk of a car being the "boot" and they go to "bath" and other little things that I'm sure we don't even notice anymore! Many people have a hard time getting used to our somewhat harsh and aparently "nasal" American English.

Then, there is us learning Sesotho... during our 10 weeks of training when we first arrived, we dove into several hours of language class every day. That in itself was a lot, and believe me - there were tears shed on more than one occasion, just in language class. Many of the volunteers' host families didn't speak any English either - that was overwhelming. It can be extremely frustrating to not be able to communicate with another human right in front of you, and alienating, and disempowering and so many other feelings! But then, we try and hanyane ka hanyane (little by little) we learn. First we learn how to greet, lumela or if there is more than one person you add an ng to the command for lumelang (u and i following the l make it sound like a d). Confusingly, you can also add ng for a locative as in: I am coming from the beer-ng and this is done with anything mosebetsi(work)-ng or sefateng (the place of the trees) and it is often funny when it is appended to something that has been stolen from English. Another way to denote someone's place is to add Ha as in Ha McFarland, many villages are named in this way... Ha and then the chief's name. Lastly, the ng can be added to make something relative as in the fat one (a motenyang). Those aren't so bad, except maybe the relative clause. A lot of people find the clicking and other pronounciations to be challenging, in Sesotho the clicks are on Qs such as the district names of Qacha's Nek and Quthing, and the word for gossip which is qoqa and you have to click twice in a row and make vowel sounds in between - that is a bit tricky! However, the sounds and clicks in Sesotho are nothing compared to Xhosa! I don't even know what I would do if we had to learn that. In Sesotho alone we have had to learn some unique and sometimes awkward sounds. Like when a word has kh you have to make that sound at the back of your throat like you are trying to hawk a loogie! That one has been hard to get used to. When we learned the name for cow which is khomo, it was a bit funny because we all really just heard it as an h at the begining! There are also tl and hl which make different sounds somehow using your cheeks. Words I will not understand while we are here are the ones which are the same word but with slightly different empahsis, such as the word litopho which can be rubber boots, seedlings or corpses depending on the emphasis - which I can never hear....

Names for and understanding family relationships are a bit complicated like the seperate word for my mother's oldest brother and my father's youngest sister and whatnot, and because this is Africa, cousins and siblings aren't easily distinguished!

One of the most challenging days of our language training was when they unveiled a chart to us containing the noun classes in Sesotho (something like 12 in all). Something that makes Sesotho unique from the latin languages (besides everything) is that each singular noun is put into one of the 6 classes, in which all of the words in that class start the same - mo (for people related nouns such as motho, the singular word for person), mo (for non-person nouns such as mokopu which is pumpkin), le, se, miscellaneaous and bo. Each of these classes has a plural that constitutes its own class in order: ba (for people, eg batho), me, ma, li, li and ma. Putting each of these words in their class, means that they each have a different pronoun, possesive pronoun etc... that really took some practice to get ahold of!

Aside from that, a word ending in a is usually a verb and then to make it a noun an o replaces it. Example being rata is the word for both like and love (I'm still unsure of the cultural ramifications there...) and the noun is lerato (in the le noun class of course). And there are so many things about Sesotho that we will not learn during our time here. The good news is, we kept trying to learn Sesotho after we left our training, with the help of Sister Magdelena, and everyone we speak to. Most people are super friendly about it, and say our Sesotho is so good, even if we just said the greetings! Then, you hear them walking away, talking to their friend Ausi (sister and the respectful way that every young woman is called) o se tseba Sesotho... Some people teach us Sesotho in the "Ugly American" style by repeating themselves and saying it more loudly - this is really un-effective as is just rambling on in Sesotho thinking that one day we'll get it... and the least helpful is the well - its about time you learned people, who we know speak perfect English and are speaking Sesotho for some motivation that is unknown. Overall though, it has been really fun to progress in learning Sesotho, it is also helpful to be able to understand what people are talking about around you, whether they are discussing politics or gossiping about you, I think it is helpful being in a strange place to be able to communicate, and as I said, Basotho are generally really happy for the effort.

Shane has been mad at me, pretty much since the begining though, I've been reasonably linguistic my whole life, and most language based things come pretty easily to me. I've heard about this from him about my vocabulary, my spelling, my writing, my reading, the fact that I shamelessly beat him in Scrabble for the first 3 years of our relationship. He almost killed me in the Spanish class that we took together at MSU, but he was happy when we were in Mexico and the extra language ability really helped us out! We faced the question during our special "couple" interview questions about how we will react if the other person learns things faster. Since we've been here though, I've definitely had an easier time picking up the language and he sometimes rants about not wanting to hear anyone else tell him that I need to teach him Sesotho... so that is our life with language here - including some of the challenges. Also, please be advised that Shane has many, many abilities that I can't even come close to comparing myself with him. This is just something that has come up in the context of language. Quick Sesotho 101:

Lumela(ng): hello
U/le phela joang: how are you(sing/plural)?
Ke/re phela hantle: I/we are fine
Le kae: where are you? Another form of greeting whose answer is ke/re teng I'm/we're here, very existential...
Haeno ke kae? Where is your home?
Haeso ke... America? My home is America
U lula kae? Where do you stay?
U ea kae? Where are you going?
Ke ea pizzang... I am going to the pizza place
U tsoa kae? Where are you coming from?
Ke tsoa Shoprite: I am from Shoprite
Khotso, Pula, Nala: Peace, Rain and Prosperity
Tsamae/Sala hantle: go/stay well

These are used as titles for everyone and the difference between saying lumela 'M'e and lumela Ausi is difficult to differentiate it is typically done on age/marital status. For men, people are often very generous with Ntate, but older women call almost everyone abuti and ausi.
'M'e (sounds like may): mother
Ntate: father
Ausi: sister
Abuti: brother

I think I'll wrap this up with that. Hopefully this was an interesting and informative post and now... le se tseba Sesotho- stay tuned for the exciting post on Soil Erosion in Lesotho...!

Khotso, Pula, Nala!

Carol and Shane

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