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Structure without content

This is what a conversation in Swahili sounds like to me at the moment (translated into English):

… … BUT … … SO … … BECAUSE … …

I pick up almost all the conjunctions and ‘joining words’, so I can follow the flow of a conversation. I know when someone is giving a reason or making a contrast or explaining a logical consequence. I have the structure and tone of a conversation.

But only a very basic idea of what the conversation is actually about! I might pick up the odd word and that gives me a ballpark, but from there it’s pretty much guess work and context clues.

Like many languages, you can reach a critical mass of verbs pretty quickly.

So sometimes, when people don’t speak too fast, a conversation sounds like this:

He wants her to drive … BUT she said “…” SO you need to … BECAUSE he can’t …

Nouns far outnumber verbs so while I might know that someone’s asking me to do something, and giving a reason, I might only have the faintest idea of what it is they want me to do! That’s a matter of vocab and hearing as much Swahili as we can.

As our tutor says, ‘kidogo kidogo’ – little by little!

Categories: Bits Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

2 replies

  1. I love reading your language learning entries, they make me think about the learning Greek process in new ways. I hadn’t realised that nouns were usually more common than verbs, but it makes sense that that’s the case. Is Swahili like English and Greek in that verbs are more complex than nouns (because they do more in the sentence?)

    1. Well James, verbs certainly do more in a sentence but Swahili is more like Hebrew with its prefixes, infixes and suffixes. It’s also like Hebrew in that it relies on context rather than grammatical precision like English or Greek – a storyteller’s language!

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