African Languages on My Brain : Day 4

My love affair continues today.  I spend the morning writing my grant and the evening studying Amharic. My mind wonders to language history. How did Semitic languages and Cushitic languages originate in the same area?  Why are African language less studied than other languages? What is the connection of the languages in Ethiopia to the other world languages?

I am amazed so much can be ignored about culture and language when it is African. It is convenient to study European languages due to volumes of information on them. How do I find documentation about African languages?  I guess I will be indulging my linguistic promiscuity in Ethiopia and entertaining lovers such as Tigrinya and Oromofa. Hmmm, I am really stepping out now, this time my lovers are related, they reside in the same land.

I wonder how indigenous languages in the Americas fit into this picture. Why have African languages been so dismissed? It is because African scholars have not taken their languages seriously? Is it because African descendants have not taken their scholars seriously?

I upload the computer program to learn foods. I need practical words. Colors and where is the beach?  are nice but I don’t even know if Ethiopia has a beach and if it does, will I be looking for it? Food I need to stay alive. I know how to say tea, shai and asa for fish, raspberry, plam, and cucumber and per (pear) sound about the same. Ruz for rice so I can order fish, rice and tomatoes (timatin). I can say Yiqirta (Excuse me) Ibakih or Ibakish (please) doro (chicken) dabo (bread) gomen (cabbage) and wat (sauce) I know the difference between enjiera (soft bread used for eating food like a biscuit) and enjori (strawberry).  I know how to say breakfast (qurs). I also know macchiato (coffee with milk) and sukar (sugar). So hopefully I won’t starve in Ethiopia. I know how to say I don’t want but I am not sure how to say I want. Hmmm I need to talk to my teacher.

My  young teacher is fascinating. He taught me household items, which are in traditional houses and words that are not in traditional western texts. I hope that Ethiopians let me in their houses so I can practice what I learn. My teacher reminds me of the African American intellectuals of the 60’s and 70’s. He is like Malcolm X after going to Mecca, one foot in each world.  I have a great fondness for him. He is the age of my son and quite knowledgeable and I have to defer to his knowledge.

It amazes me how much African descendants in the Diaspora have in common with Africans in Africa. They have never met but there is a bond that goes beyond skin deep. Africans in the Diaspora are unaware of what they have carried forth from the homeland. I have made contact with African descendants in Canada and the Caribbean who speak French, Brazilians who speak Portuguese, Mexicans, Hondurans, Nicaraguan and Cubans who speak Spanish, Namibians who know German and Africans in Italy who speak Italian. They have more in common than their differences.

Amharic has penetrated my brain. It is a syllabic language, which makes perfect sense from a developmental perspective. I recognize seat in telling time as “sayat” instead of seat, which is pronounced with hard e in English. Ethiopians are not strict with spelling in roman script, which is good for me. I am internalizing the phonics of their language with the roman script of mine. So a new world has opened for me.

Time is a complex concept in Amharic. Ethiopians have their own calendar. I am not sure how it translates other than to say that they have 13 months. One month has 5 days. The year is different from Western Calendar. They view time differently. The day starts at 6:00 A.M. instead of 12:00 A.M. So midnight is 6:00 P.M. and midday is 6:00 A.M. I know that rub (roob) means far but I don’t really understand how it relates to time.  So I guess that I need to talk to my teacher and try to attempt it again.

When one first learns a skill, the learning process requires mental strain and stretching the formation of new and different synapses and connections. You need ample, fresh blood supply to the frontal lobe to master a new concept. So when you are learning something new like a new language with a different structure you need lots of space in the frontal lobe, which is the brain’s center for execution and decision-making. Once the task is familiar the frontal lobe transfers the information further back in the brain to get ready for the next challenge.   But once the task is mastered it becomes easier.  Learning a language requires a lot of mental stress and a lot of practice, repetition and patience. Demanding situations require a frontal lobe that is rested, well fed, well maintained and ready for the challenge. I can feel my frontal lobe struggling with the concepts of time, but passing the sounds on to the other part of the brain.

The bridge between English and Amharic can be difficult to create. My teacher tells me words that are not in any Western textbook. My language program tells me words like chopsticks and burger in Amharic. I learn the word for cup and saucer as well as bowl. I know plate sahen and coffee mug kubaya. I am not sure that Ethiopians or I have need for eating utensils and much western foods since they use the bread and right hand. My Western texts explain, compares and contrasts the two worldviews, which give me food for thought.  It distracts me from actually learning Amharic words. Once those synapses in the brain start firing, they need to hit. I need to focus my synapses on learning Amharic and forget the fascinating language trivia.



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10 responses to “African Languages on My Brain : Day 4

  1. Another fine read. I so enjoy your learning and giving us a peak into your brain and thought process!

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    Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!
    However, how can we communicate?

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