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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Nuts and Bolts: Saramaccan


The language Saramaccan is a most wonderful sort of stew.
It's spoken by only about 26,000 people, mostly in Suriname, and one of the gorgeous things about it is the way it's been mixed together: here some Portuguese sloshing gravy-like all over the place, there some bits of English and Dutch bobbing about like potatoes, and over there some herby African languages such as Fongbe and Akan.
The African words may make up a small proportion of the Saramaccan vocabulary, but Saramaccan's African heritage is important all the same, for Saramaccan uses tones (when the meaning of a word depends on whether you say it in a high or low voice, more or less), which European languages mostly don't.
In this glorious casserole of a language there'll be Portuguese-based words popping up, like faka (Portuguese faca) knife, and kendi (quente) hot.

Then there are glimpses of English, too: adantifi, toothpaste, is a charming example; and of the African words adjáansi, which means spider, may have a familiar ring to it.

Mostly, though, Saramaccan has gone off in its own glorious way. The word maaní means screen or sieve, and tjuba ta maaniit means that it's drizzling; paati means to separate, and paati baka ku baka, means to go in opposite directions, wántú means a few, and wánwan means alone.
You know, suddenly I feel terribly sad that I don't speak all the wonderful languages of the world.
Word To Use Today....hmmm. I'm not sure what to suggest. How about ignorance? This word comes from the Latin ignōrāre, which means not to know.






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