Grammar. The mere thought of it has most of you running away in fright and the rest yearning to hear more. I have to admit that I never liked English grammar classes either. But it’s fascinating, even though a bit frustrating, to study grammar in another language. That’s especially true if it’s a language that doesn’t have answers yet and doesn’t have a textbook written yet.
A lot has happened since I last wrote to you six weeks ago – thanks so much for your patience with me!
One of the things that has happened is that my language helper Adama* and I participated in a 3-week grammar class, helping us to understand the grammar of My Language a lot better. I also learned a lot of French linguistic terminology and got to teach a few of the modules (like the other teachers, I taught in French). One thing that I really enjoyed delving into in My Language grammar was the noun classes.
If you’ve studied Spanish, French, or German in school, you may remember that in Spanish and French, each noun is either masculine or feminine. In German, each noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Noun classes are kind of like that, since each noun is in a noun class, and that is seen in its suffix, the pronouns it takes, how the adjectives change to match it, and other stuff like that. But unlike Spanish, French, and German, My Language has 5 singular noun classes! My Language also has 5 plural noun classes, and they don’t line up one to one.
For those of you care, you can see a bit how it works in the fancy chart above that we made (though, for your sakes, the version above is the English version). Let’s just look at the green and orange parts, though, since otherwise this e-mail will get way too long. You can see, for example, that the word ciisɔ ‘yam’ becomes ciiɲɔ̃ ‘yams’ in the plural. When talking about yams, if you want to say, for example, “They are yummy,” you have to take the “they” pronoun that matches “yams,” so, in this case, “ɲi” (pronounced like nyi). If you want to say about a certain yam, “It is yummy,” you’d have to pick the right “it,” which, in this case, is not “ki” or “di” or “yi” or “bi” but “si.” However, if you were talking about a neck, you couldn’t use “si” to mean “it, the neck.” You’d have to say “ki.” Does it make a little sense, at least the green and orange parts of the chart?
Then you can see the rainbow lines in the middle. If you look at the blue lines, they show that words that get “yi” for their “it” can either use “ŋi” (pronounced like ngi), “vi,” or “ci” (pronounced like chee) for their “they,” depending on the word. (Lines may be added or taken away in the future, but this is where I think they should go today.)
You can ignore purple, blue, yellow, and pink parts of the chart. They’re just there to show that there are lots of other things that match up to the noun classes, and what’s in the chart is just a few of those things. Each week I seem to discover more! I would go on to explain more of the chart, but I think I’ve already lost most of you so I had better stop.
Anyway, that’s one of the things that I’ve been working on lately. I’ve also been continuing to actually learn My Language, which is rather different than talking about it on paper. (Though I have to say that talking about it helps improve my talking in it.)
Last week we also had “alphabet party, take 2,” just for 2 days. It was great to see everyone together again. I felt like we didn’t get very far in our two days together, but then I realized that each one of them was able to write a story in My Language now, and the others were able to read and understand the stories with more or less ease. That is something which we had only started on the last day of our time together in January, so it’s huge progress and super exciting!