Loving Language:

If you would like to learn more about my path to and through learning Somali, please visit the guest post at The Polyglotist blog.

Originally posted on The Polyglotist:

richardI “met” Richard Benton when he left a comment about the difficulties of studying rare languages in one of my Nahuatl related posts, and was instantly curious when I found out through his blog, Loving Language, that he’s studying Somali. As a fellow aficionada of the so-called minor languages, the languages that have millions of speakers and yet very little popularity, I just had to know why, and so asked him if he’d share a bit of his love of Somali with The Polyglotist. Happily, he agreed! Read on to learn more. First of all, Richard, tell us…

Why Somali?

Why would a white, corporate-employed, Midwesterner decide to study the Somali language? I’m often asked some version of this question by Somalis and native Minnesotans, alike. My standard answer is, Minnesota waan degganahay! “I live in Minnesota!”

I moved a few years ago from Seattle to the Twin Cities…

View original 995 more words

Obscure is exotic, and exotic is beautiful.

Obscure is exotic, and exotic is beautiful.

Today was a good Somali day, in spite of some challenges over the past few weeks. I listened to a brief news podcast. (I found that SBS Australia has news podcasts in lots of languages, including obscure ones. Samoan or Assyrian, anyone?) I didn’t understand much and I didn’t have time to look up words, as I was driving.

I spent a long time translating a news article from ”War Somali”. It took about 90 minutes to translate a 74-word article, including the headline. Time-consuming, but I ran across a couple of tough grammatical features that my book doesn’t cover.

Imagine a language where you take all the nouns and put them together, and then you take all the pronouns and prepositions and put them together, along with some adverbs. The latter also form contractions, so the original pronouns and prepositions are not transparent. Your job then is to intuit which preposition belongs with which noun or group of nouns. Genitive constructions are not marked, so you also have to intuit which nouns go with which other nouns. In the meantime, I’m still seeing some prepositions among the nouns.

I can understand why my book hasn’t tackled this yet. I need to spend some time searching for more information and working with my tutor. If I can figure this issue out, then I’ll certainly be way ahead of where I am now.

Any suggestions on how to figure this out? Do you know any resources that explain these issues?
What baffles you about your language?

Photo credit: KyL 2014 / Foter / CC BY-NC


How can you help me progress to the next level?

How can you help me progress to the next level?

I’m running into the doldrums of language-learning, making slow, even imperceptible progress. What do the following language-learning activities have in common?

  1. Translating sentences in my book;
  2. Translating actual news articles or podcasts;
  3. Visiting a Somali cafe.

They are all a) great activities and b) very time-consuming.

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How do you neutralize the ego so you can learn?

How do you neutralize your ego so you can learn?

While I worked a little on Somali this week, it hasn’t been the main focus. (Waan ka xumahay!) I’ve been preparing three talks taking place over the course of two weeks, all around cultural awareness. As a reader of this blog, you are probably fascinated with other cultures as I am. I will try to challenge you as I do my live audiences. If you want to know about other cultures, you must work: sitting down, asking questions, and learning. Put your ego aside.

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Don't overanalyze...have some fun!

Don’t overanalyze…have some fun!

I tend to be pretty “thinky.” Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I can analyze a situation to the smallest detail until someone makes me stop. At the same time, I tend to overlook or even downplay the important emotional experience in the moment. I have friends who are very empathetic, who are always picking up on the emotions of the room. I’ve learned a lot from these friends about a blind spot of mine.

While this week I didn’t get a lot more done on Somali than usual, I had more fun. A less thinky week. I read aloud my dialogue and I turned to some news sites. I also found some new resources that got me excited. I want to experience fully the excitement, wonder, and discovery of this week, even though I may not speak great Somali compared to last week. I made new connections and enjoyed bursts of delight. Read More

Is translation impossible sometimes?

Is translation impossible sometimes?

This post follows on the 4 points I learned about people from the linguistic theories of Prof. Noam Chomsky. Please refer to “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background” for a full introduction to this idea, and to the first in this series, “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Grammar is in every brain” and the second in this series, “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Describe, don’t prescribe.”

3. Anything you can say in one language you can say in another.
This above premise contradicts a widespread notion among language enthusiasts. Indeed, when I originally suggested this point, I received several comments by folks who disagreed with it. All over the internet we find lists of “words with no translation” (note that they assume that the target language is English), but the list begs the question of the nature of translation.

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Inspiration pulled me out of burnout.

Inspiration pulled me out of burnout.

I’ve been listening to the “Actual Fluency Podcast,” hosted by the language-loving Dane, Chris Broholm, and a couple recent episodes helped me out tremendously. My language-learning energy has been flagging. I’ve been doing some exercises out of a book and daily vocabulary flashcards. I needed a boost, and the podcast inspired me to take the next step. Read More


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