Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hakuna Matata etc

Recently heard read…

“more than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. It would be charitable to say that the results are sometimes mixed.

Consider this hearty announcement in a Yugoslavian hotel: ‘The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid. Turn to her straight away.’ Or this warning to motorists in Tokyo: ‘When a passenger of the foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigour.’ Or these instructions gracing a packet of fast food from Italy: ‘Besmear a backing pan, previously buttered with a good tomato sauce, and, after, dispose the cannelloni, lightly distanced between them in a only couch.’

Clearly the writer of that message was not about to let a little ignorance of English stand in the way of a good meal. In fact, it would appear that one of the beauties of the English language is that with even the most tenuous grasp you can speak volumes if you show enough enthusiasm – a willingness to tootle with vigour, as it were.

To be fair, English is full of booby traps for the unwary foreigner. Any language where the unassuming word fly signifies an annoying insect, a means of travel, and a critical part of a gentleman’s apparel is clearly asking to be mangled. “

(from Bill Bryson: Mother Tongue The English language)

Now lets take Swahili. Fusing Arabic with the African Bantu, the word Swahili is derived from Arabic Sawahili meaning ‘the language of the coast’. The correct word to describe the language is Kiswahili and the people who speak Kiswahili as their mother tongue, are Waswahilis.

A fine language, full of many onomatopoeic, monosyllabic words that appeal to anyone vaguely interested in picking them up. Take ‘lala salaama’ (sleep well) for example, or ‘sasa hivi’ (right now – why oh why does that one jump out at me…?!). These phrases are heavy with meaning– exactly what is intended. Although one must be honest – I definitely had more success from the first phrase regarding rest and relaxation, than the latter which seemed all too much in the slow pace of this marvelous land.

Again from Bill Bryson: “Usually in English we strive to preserve the old spelling at almost any cost to logicality”. In Swahili – not so – its all as it sounds. Not that one ever has to go as far as spell, lets be honest. But it is within realms of possibilities...

There are many great websites to help and perfect our day to day Swahili:

Post Script Note:

One sentence rather notable on the wiki page:

Stop! Thief!

(saying this in Swahili could likely result in violent death for the thief at the hands of self appointed vigilantes. your item may or may not be recovered.) Simama, mwizi

Rather practice your Swahili in the privacy of your own home, then?!

~ hibiscus

1 comment:

  1. sasa hivi never really have the right effect but pole pole (slowly) does :)