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African Languages

AGBF

Super_Ideal_Rock
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In another thread Trekkie posted some really interesting information about the Xhosa language. I know nothing about it or its origins, but was fascinated by how it sounded when spoken. I was also interested that it is written with the Roman alphabet and would like to know more about how it came to be written down in that.

I have posted about my niece and her husband elsewhere on Pricescope before. (I mean, it may have been in Hangout, but in other threads.) My niece is completely bilingual in English and Spanish and fluent in Italian. She also appears, now, to have mastered her husband's native language of Wolof. She went to Senegal once before, but will be returning there this summer. And this time it will be with her husband for the first time, to meet his family. She wants to be able to communicate with them. They speak both Wolof and French. She has been less interested in learning French, the official language of her husband's country, and has only been chipping away at that slowly. (It puzzles me that she dove into Wolof rather than French when she already speaks Spanish and Italian, but perhaps she hears Wolof spoken around her husband's Senegalese friends? Or perhaps Wolof is easier?) I used to speak French with her husband before his English improved, and I noticed that he spoke French with several of his friends. It was a lingua franca for couples of mixed ethnicity that that my niece and he knew. (For instance the best man at their wedding was Senegalese, but his his wife was Haitian. I don't know if she spoke any Wolof. But, of course, they both spoke spoke French.)

At any rate, I thought I would contribute a YouTube tutorial on Wolof to this discussion although it cannot compare in interest to Miriam Makeba's "Click Song"!

Wolof Lesson...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB3RBQLfQHw

AGBF
 

AGBF

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In another thread Trekkie wrote to me:

Trekkie|1464680389|4038393 said:
AGBF, I primarily read in English and Afrikaans but when I manage to find something in isiXhosa I just gobble it up. Not much is written in the language and what there is doesn't really reflect the narrative style used in oral communication, so it actually loses quite a lot of its impact. But I feel it's important to support Xhosa writers so I continue to buy whatever is available.

If you would like to hear what isiXhosa sounds like, there's quite a well known song which really embodies the spirit of the language. It became internationally known thanks to Miriam Makeba. Here she is giving a bit of background before singing it in the Netherlands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mwh9z58iAU

And here's someone explaining the click sounds that make up the language: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZlp-croVYw That video was made in the city I grew up in, so seeing it in the background makes me quite nostalgic. :)
I listened to the song (with Ms. Makeba's introduction to it) and also to the lesson on speaking Xhosa. (Is it "Xhosa" or "isiXhosa" that one speaks, Trekkie?) I am hooked! Please, please, tell me more! :read:

Deb :wavey:
 

Trekkie

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Lovely thread idea and thank you so much for sharing that video! I have wondered once or twice how your niece is doing and am so pleased to hear a positive update. I can definitely see why your niece would want to learn Wolof rather than French - it is a very interesting language (and much kinder to pronunciation errors! :lol: ) and I think it indicates her commitment and sincerity to her husband and new family. :))

Nelson Mandela famously said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart". I think that might be why your niece is making the effort to learn Wolof. :))

isiXhosa is the language, it is spoken by the Xhosa. Linguistic purists are quick to point out that in English, you don't say that the Frenchman speaks Français but for some reason it has stuck that we use isiXhosa in this way. Nelson Mandela was a Xhosa so his first language was isiXhosa but he also learnt Afrikaans from the wardens while he was imprisoned. It is believed that this gave him an edge when negotiating with the Afrikaans nationalist government prior his release.

Jaysonsmom, a long time PSer, also speaks Afrikaans as she lived in South Africa for a period while growing up. Afrikaans has European roots and is considered the only European language to have developed outside of Europe. It is heavily influenced by the indigenous languages and Malay, which was the language originally spoken by the slaves. Funnily enough, nearly 400 years later, there are still linguistic similarities between the Malay spoken in Cape Town and the Malay spoken in Malaysia! I have a Cape Malay friend in Australia who is married to a woman from Malaysia and not only does she look like she could be his sister, the way they practice their religion, their greetings, basic conversation and the words they use for their religious feasts are the same. I find that very interesting. :)

But back to African languages... The one African language I wish I could learn is a Bushman dialect. From my mother's side I am descended from the Bushmen and although my father is a white Englishman, I have always felt very proud of the fact that I am part Bushman. Thanks to intermarriage and urbanisation there aren't many of us left, and fewer still who live in the traditional way, but anthropologists widely agree that we are where it all started. If you thought the Xhosa clicks were something, here's a (quite patronising, but oh, well) video showing some Bushman history and a few Bushman clicks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c246fZ-7z1w and here's a simple conversation about some grass! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6WO5XabD-s :lol:

If I recall correctly, you are married to an Italian? :) Do you speak much Italian? :)) I remember your French was also very good!
 

AGBF

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Trekkie|1464765329|4038863 said:
Lovely thread idea and thank you so much for sharing that video! I have wondered once or twice how your niece is doing and am so pleased to hear a positive update. I can definitely see why your niece would want to learn Wolof rather than French - it is a very interesting language (and much kinder to pronunciation errors! :lol: ) and I think it indicates her commitment and sincerity to her husband and new family. :))
To veer off-topic for a moment (I won't call it a "thread-jack" since I started the thread), I will update you on my niece's marriage. It is really a pleasure to do so. She and her husband have been married for just over two years now and they appear to have a gentle, intimate, respectful relationship. Although they spend time with our family and make every effort to reach out to the rare relative of his who is available at any time or place, and although they have friends, they appear to be content mainly with each other.

Each of them works long hours. She has been teaching high school Spanish for three years. He is a trained mechanic. (He got his training in Senegal, but unemployment was so high there and in Spain, where he and my niece met, that he had to work picking fruit in Spain.) As his English improved he went from working on a loading dock to working on cars. Now he is doing mechanic's work, but he always takes any hours he can working on the loading dock at Macy's as well.

They live in a nice suburban community in a condominium with mainly young couples. It is quite cosmopolitan, so my niece's husband does not feel ill at ease. There are young physicians and other professionals in the building. It has a swimming pool and a gym.

My nephew watched his mother cook some special Senegalese foods and, although he never made many of them, he has amazed my brother by being able to duplicate them in his kitchen here. In addition he has been on his own for many years. (He is in his early 30's, a few years older than my niece, and has been cooking other Senegalese dishes for years.) He and my niece share the cooking, but she has learned to make many Senegalese dishes.

My niece has always been somewhat athletic, being on the sports teams at her high schools and always being a dancer. Her husband is extremely disciplined in his eating and exercise. He will rarely eat a sweet; he only does so if someone (like me) has brought a special cake in his honor and he wants to be courteous. He now has my niece interested in doing a 5 mile run, for which she has been training, with him. He walks wherever he goes, eschewing a car. He goes to the gym daily. He has a black belt in karate, which he never mentioned to me (my brother mentioned it to me in passing).

Recently my niece decided that after three years of teaching high school Spanish she really wanted to teach students who were interested in learning Spanish. So she applied to a few, select Ph.D programs in Spanish in the United States. She was guided by the advice of the professors from her undergraduate school who knew what she wanted and, also, to some degree, by geography. (She and her husband will want to start a family in the five or six years it will take her to earn the Ph.D.)

She applied to schools that had what she wanted to study: a program where she could study the role of African migration to Spain. She has decided to go to The University of Michigan. She will also be able to take classes in their African Studies Department (I am not sure what it is called there). So they will be moving to Michigan as soon as they return from Senegal this summer. It is pretty cold in the winter in Michigan, but her husband has been getting used to the cold by degrees. From Senegal to Jaen, Spain (with no central heating) was one big step. Then he arrived in Connecticut in the middle of a brutal winter with high snow drifts and we had to buy him new clothing immediately. So Michigan should not be too much of a shock!

He supports my niece in everything she does. He is just a doll.

Deb :wavey:
 

WeeOui

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AGBF, I'm enjoying this thread. I've been working with a student who moved here last year from Senegal. My grandmother, who speaks a very, very Cajun version of French came with my dad to have lunch with me one day, and she got to meet my student. His eyes lit up when he heard her speak French to my father, and they could understand each other enough to have a pretty lively conversation. I just thought it was neat watching people who originated from two opposite end of the earth and with 80 years between them have a fun interaction with one another.
 

AGBF

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WeeOui|1464819693|4039111 said:
AGBF, I'm enjoying this thread. I've been working with a student who moved here last year from Senegal. My grandmother, who speaks a very, very Cajun version of French came with my dad to have lunch with me one day, and she got to meet my student. His eyes lit up when he heard her speak French to my father, and they could understand each other enough to have a pretty lively conversation. I just thought it was neat watching people who originated from two opposite end of the earth and with 80 years between them have a fun interaction with one another.
Are you in Louisiana, WeeOui, or do you just happen to have some Cajun family members? I am asking because I have recently (in perhaps the past 5 or 10 years) developed a "thing" about Louisiana. I have always been a bit of a Francophile because I have been a Francophone, but I didn't always love the people in France. (I lived there briefly and the women in my local épicérie couldn't have been nicer. I really felt at home there. But not everyone in Paris was as wonderful.) I loved Parisian French, though, and I could never understand the Canadians. They sounded to me as if they were speaking Russian or or some other foreign language I couldn't decipher. (Except those few Canadians who spoke Parisian French; they did exist.)

However, recently I have been devouring the books of James Lee Burke about Dave Robicheaux and listening to very old Cajun music on the Internet and getting more interested in Louisiana than I ever was before...even though I can't understand more than one word out of four when I hear Cajun French!!! Cajun French and Cajun music, although I know it has its roots in Canada, interests me far, far more than Canadian French.

I did love Québec, though. My husband and I toured the Gaspé Peninsula before our daughter was born. Once in a restaurant when it was someone's birthday everyone in the restaurant sang, "Gens du pays". I sang it (solo and a capella) at a restaurant on my Senegalese nephew's first birthday celebration here in the United States!

But I have talked enough. I am delighted you are following-and contributing to-this thread. I hope to hear much more about your family!

Deb :wavey:

Gens du pays...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=balwTxuE7ek
 

AGBF

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Trekkie|1464765329|4038863 said:
But back to African languages... The one African language I wish I could learn is a Bushman dialect. From my mother's side I am descended from the Bushmen and although my father is a white Englishman, I have always felt very proud of the fact that I am part Bushman. Thanks to intermarriage and urbanisation there aren't many of us left, and fewer still who live in the traditional way, but anthropologists widely agree that we are where it all started. If you thought the Xhosa clicks were something, here's a (quite patronising, but oh, well) video showing some Bushman history and a few Bushman clicks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c246fZ-7z1w and here's a simple conversation about some grass! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6WO5XabD-s :lol:
Trekkie-

I am sure that we have discussed The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith here, but I now do not recall what we said in the threads! I am trying to remember what he said in them about the Bushmen's language. I am recalling (perhaps erroneously) that he said it sounded like hummingbirds. Do you recall that? Do you recall that in the series Mma Ramotswe adopted two children from the Bushmen tribe and that that engendered some descriptions of how the Bushmen lived?

I have been enchanted by the series. My niece and her husband from Senegal, who saw the BBC DVDs although he didn't read the books, also loved it. I do not know what you, as someone from closer to that region (South Africa being closer to Botswana than Senegal is) think of the books, though. Do you feel that the author has captured Botswana and its people well?

I would like to discuss the Bushmen more.

Deb
 

Trekkie

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Deb, you are just the best!

Your description of your niece and nephew's relationship sounds lovely. :) They sound like a very good match. <3

I have actually not read this series but I have just bought the first book on your recommendation. It sounds right up my alley! The Khoisan languages do indeed sound like hummingbirds, what a lovely description. Botswana is just across the border from South Africa. One of my favourite national parks, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana so I've been fortunate to visit a few times. I haven't yet ventured into Gabarone, but many years ago I was in a pretty serious relationship with a South African Tswana man, and I just loved the sound of the language. To the untrained ear it sounds like a guttural, mumbled Italian. It's quite lyrical and very pretty.

Interestingly, many Bushmen living in Botswana are being removed from their traditional hunting grounds to make way for diamond mining. It's terribly sad.
 
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