21 July 2009

learning pohnpeian

we're language learning right now, studying pohnpeian. its so different from any european language, i don't know how to describe it. some interesting highlights, though:

-the english-based words are very telling of the history here. words like rice and donuts (rahs, dohnud) are obvious adaptions, but also words like school and week (sakul, wiehk). in fact, most time-related words are obviously from english, spanish, or german. also there are no words for extended family members (aunt, uncle, cousin, etc) - when they distinguish those relationships from mom/dad/sibling, they use the english word.

-there are at least seven ways of counting, depending on what you're counting. (one for just counting, one for counting days, one for counting things that are long and skinning, one for counting things that are alive, one for counting people, etc.) i understand there are plenty more.

-there are actually three languages here. the low language (which we're mostly learning), the high language (which you are supposed to use to speak to people older than you), and a high high language used only when speaking to the king. people learn all three, and there are different words for everything.

-so far we've learned fifteen ways of saying possessives (my/your/his/hers/etc), depending on what you're possessing. one is for foods and one is for drinks, but the rest don't seem to have any discernible pattern. i think it may have to do with the concept of shared ownership. for example, 'my arm' can't be shared, but 'my book' definitely can, and 'my son' most usually is. a bit tricky.

its a difficult language to learn because there are no fast rules. our teacher's words were actually "we don't have grammar like you do in english". so we're practicing, and hoping for the best. thankfully the pohnpeians are incredibly friendly and very encouraging. it would be very easy to get by with english only here, but i'm going to do my best to learn.


Ellen said...

Seven ways of counting?!? How many have you mastered so far?
Hope your classes are going well so far. The workload at the beginning can be tough! Wishing you all the best! Love all the photos!

Sachi said...

Haha, this sounds a lot like japanese. All the different ways of counting, the different grammar and vocabulary usages when you're talking to people of different ranking. Very complicated. I feel your pain.