language

Will you marry me?

I’m getting to that age where quite a few of my friends are talking about getting married or actually doing it. It’s exciting! One question that occasionally comes up is “would you, as a woman, ever ask the man to marry you?”. The answer differs from friend to friend, with many feeling a bit squeamish about it. But until today I never realised how significant it was that we can even discuss this as a possibility…

As I’ve said, I’m trying my hardest to learn some Kiswahili. It’s very slow progress. Today, we were learning about conjugating verbs in the passive tense….snore! Until, we got to the verb “to marry” or “kuoa”.

I wanted to say “Lucy married Nick”. “Lucy alimoa Nick”. Incorrect my teacher interjected! Totally puzzled because I knew I had the form right, I queried where my mistake lay. Turns out, it is actually not possible to say a woman married a man in Kiswahili. A woman can only ever be passive in relation to the verb to marry. Or in other words, while Nick can marry Lucy, Lucy can only ever be married by Nick.

Yikes! After International Women’s Day I’m wondering if it would be possible to launch a subtle gender equity campaign by misusing the active and passive forms at high frequency?

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Ninajifunza Kiswahili

My flatmate, Sarah, and I have been trying to learn Kiswahili…slowly…

This week we learned that many verbs in Kiswahili are simply made my modifying others. Here’s an example to explain:

So the verb “to beat” is kupiga. As in “Ninapiga watoto wangu” or “I beat my children”. (I promise I don’t. I don’t have children). Then a tonne of other verbs are made by simply adding the name of an object. Which makes for some nice combinations…

  • Kupiga simu. Literally, “To beat a phone”. Or rather, to make a phone call.
  • Kupiga vikono. “To beat hands” or “to clap”.
  • Kupiga wagoti. “To beat knees” or “to kneel”.

What a brilliant system!! But my absolute favourite has to be how you talk about a ringing phone: “Simu yangu inalia”. “My phone is ringing” or in a literal translation “My phone is crying” (Kulia is to cry”).

And the best bit is when you hear the literal translation being used in English – I was totally bewildered the first time someone asked “whose phone is crying”.

Now I know.