African Languages On My Brain: Day 2

The mountains are beautiful. My brain explodes out of my body and goes ricocheting into the mountains. Each time it slams into the mountain it empties ideas like a piñata spilling candy. I love the solitude of nature even though nature frightens me sometimes. I go down the hill to connect my computer to study my Amharic. I go to the picnic tables to connect with Amharic recordings online. There are so many ideas bursting from my mind, I doubt if a week is enough time to capture them.  What do I do with them when I capture them?

One of my Ethiopians friends chides me about my fascination with learning about languages and challenges me to spend more time learning the language. I guess it is the same as learning about men before you get involved with one. From the perspective of a scientist and an introvert learning about something before you engage is more comfortable. There is a limit to what you can learn vicariously. At some point you must learn from experience.

I notice the contrast between books written by Westerners and books written by Ethiopians. Westerners focus more on the poverty and doubt the contributions of Ethiopians even though there is proof to their claims. Ethiopians unbashfully proclaim the richness of their language, culture and accomplishments.

I notice how many big words there are in Amharic. I realize that at some point I need to learn to read the script. I don’t have the patience at this age to sit in a group in a drill and kill session to learn the script. I make a commitment to feed my frontal lobes by learning the script of Hindi, Amharic and Arabic together. My frontal lobes appreciate the promise of engagement.

I notice all the words in Amharic that contain “ling”. They would write it legne. I notice the sounds that start from the back of the throat instead of the opening of the throat.  My brain catches that ishi means ok and dehna means fine. Betam amesiganelu means thank you very much. Incorporating these words into my conversation goes a long way in incorporating the other words.

My languages live in rooms in my brain. They wait patiently for me there like lovers who have learn the benefits of co-habitation. When the marriage is new or the courtship is young, the language demands my attention at inopportune times and in ways that I would not have chosen. They are like unbridled young lovers. I know that the word for red is kay and bula sticks in my mind for gray and then there is burtukan for orange and buna for brown.

Yes it is true that I have studied the colors. But I have studied greetings as well. It would be more practical to learn the greetings first. New love is not so easily tamed.  The numbers return to me after a brief absence. I can count once again in Amharic and so I am making some progress.

The culture of my new lover intrigues me. So I go online to ask people that I have met questions about the history of the language.  The Afro-Asiatic languages must be named for a reason. They could not have the name unless they originated in Africa and Asia.  I learn that Arabic and Amharic come from the same language. I wonder about Aramaic, did it have the same root. I find out that Tigrinya is older than Arabic or Amharic and it is still spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I do not need to marry another Ethiopian language. Marriage takes time and attention, but it would be quite interesting to have other lovers in Ethiopia like Tigrinya and Oromofa.

I call myself a closet Anthropologist. I could learn a lot about the horn of Africa, which is the cradle of civilization if I learned 3 of its languages. It would take me a long way in my research.  It would feed my soul to go deep into the annals of civilization. It would keep me motivated to know that I can actually go back in time and read through history through her people.

My languages express jealousy just as most lovers or husbands. When I learn a language, I have what  “the past language in the mouth”. When I learned Spanish, I had English in the mouth. I spent 3 hours a day working on Spanish sounds to please my new spouse. I worked so hard at enunciating the language that my jaw ached at night. I learned relaxation so I could sleep pain free. Spanish dislike the taste of sharing my mouth with English.

French, the same, frowning and scowling when I misplaced french words with Spanish ones. I avoided native French speakers from Quebec and France. I practiced with the French speaking Africans and Caribbean’s who had more tolerance for my infidelity. The Brazilians shut me down with the Portugal Portuguese accent and I relearned Portuguese with a Brazilian accent. So I guess it does help to have other languages or previous relationships. I learned Portuguese by combining French and Spanish. I learned Italian by combining the others and looking for similarities and differences.  The Italians were more tolerant with combining French and Portuguese. They felt scorned and threatened by Spanish and correct me promptly and sternly if I pronounced an Italian word with a Spanish accent.  Infidelity with the Spanish was not to be tolerated.

Amharic seemed more open minded with the benefit of other languages, they encourage Arabic, Tigrinya, Oromofa and even Ge’et. It makes me better. There was disdain for my other European languages and appreciation and tolerance for my considerable skill in English.  Ethiopians appreciate English like a lover thrilled with the techniques of his conquest without acknowledging she learned the techniques from past experiences. If my new husband accepts other lovers perhaps he will accept my other husbands, Arabic, Swahili, Hausa and Zulu. The brain is now open.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “African Languages On My Brain: Day 2

  1. Abdelmjid Seghir

    I started receiving emails from your blog teling me that you were posting new articles and couldn’t wait to read them.
    I have finished school now, so I have more time to read and comment on them 🙂
    This article is great. Your analogy is still catchy and amusing, and your experience is really worth being shared.
    I think it’s easier to learn a language when you know other languages that belong to the same family. So, if you know Spanish and French learnng Portuguese becomes much easier 🙂
    By the way, I noted that you said “burtukan” is “orange” in Amharic. That’s very interesting because orange in Arabic is “burtukal”!!! I suppose Amharic and Arabic belong to the same family. So, could we say that Amharic is a semitic language?

  2. Abdelmjid Seghir

    I thought the most popular Semitic languages were Arabic and Hebrew!

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