Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lessons in Language

There is a reason why I am always curious about other people's languages and it is not (only) because I read Linguistics at the University, but because my curiosities have always been pleasantly rewarded. Perhaps I will one day get my biggest wish: to know which language was first spoken by man and how precisely it came to disperse with the rest of humanity. Forget the biblical tale of Babel. Even there, it did not say precisely which language it was. Now take the following amazing similarities I discovered in Swahili and Yoruba, my own mother tongue, sometimes last year during my stay at the Eldoret campus of the Univerisity. Note, Swahili is an East African language while Yoruba is spoken in West Africa. Therefore, if scientific "theories" are to be believed, any similarities found in the two languages must only be explained as either a borrowing, or a movement from the East to the West. i.e. The Yoruba people, and indeed everyone in this side of the continent were once settled close to East Africa and had moved westwards over time. Of course, my pride won't allow me take this. I have numerous myths of Oduduwa decending with a chain in Ile Ife to support my insistence that, if anything, Swahili it was that developed over time from the people who had migrated Eastwards from here due to wars, discrimination etc. Anyway, the similarities are amazing, and there are many more i did not find. Look below.

Kiswahili/Yoruba

Lala (sleep)/Lala (dream)

Kufa (die)/Ku (die)

Nyama (meat)/ Nama (meat). What we call Suya, they call Nyama choma (roasted/smoked meat)

Ni (is) /Ni (is). So, to say Seun is my friend would be Seun ni rafiki yangu, like Seun ni ore mi in Yoruba. Same structure.

Pole (sorry) /Pele (sorry). The word pele in Yoruba is actually quite ambiguous, but it can be used to expressed apology, or care for someone who's just been hurt. But it doesn't mean the same as "I'm sorry". This is expressed as (E) ma binu.

Pole pole (gently or carefully) /Pele pele (gently or carefully). Perfect correlation.

Nini (what) /Kini (what)

Nani (who) /Tani (who). Linguists would find ways of explaining how N became T or the other way round, or K as above. But it won't remove the mystery.

Kwani (what is it)/ Kiwani (what now is it)

Jana (yesterday) / Ana (yesterday)

Kiboko (whip) / Koboko (whip). Koboko, in Yoruba, is actually borrowed though now, the source may be lost. But in Swahili, the meaning is Buffalo. That's where the whip is derived from.


I found these in a collection of over four hundred words of the Kiswahili language, and I am convinced that there are several others bound to amaze still. And such exist in other languages around the world, even those so farther apart than Swahili and Yoruba.

Some wonder!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article. It is my sincere belief that nothing educates quite as deeply as travel & immersive experiences.
I had a conversation with a fellow Nigerian where I tried to explain that the word Koboko referred specifically to the leather whip & not just any variation of a cane or instrument of corporal punishment.
Seeing as you're a linguist your input might prove most valuable.