I listened this week to an episode of the “Language as Culture” podcast by David Mansaray. It was called “How to Make the Most of a Language Tutor,” and featured the young German polyglot, Judith Meyer. Ms. Meyer offered several great tips for work that can be done on one’s own preparing for your next lesson.
Following one piece of advice from her, I decided to write a short piece in Somali, describing a friend of mine. Ms. Meyer recommended that one pick a topic that will be relevant, so that the vocabulary and syntax will be useful in more conversations.
Sure enough, a couple of grammatical items came to the fore. The book I’m using still has not introduced possessive pronouns (“my,” “your,” etc.). This makes writing about anyone difficult. I can’t write about my friend and his name, for example. So I’ll need to memorize these items.
Another item is a possessive verb, “have.” At this stage of my research, it looks like there are two ways to express possession. One is a verb, hayso, and the other is a construction with the preposition leh plus the verb “be.” I will need to find out how these two constructions work and in what contexts each is preferred.
Finally, I realized something even more complicated about the semantics and syntax. I mentioned before (in “Week 3 of loving Somali: Coffee and Somali | Loving Language”), Somali has a “focus particle,” that is, a word that indicates if one of the sentential elements should be emphasized.
So I thought…
In fact, I found that Somali uses three focus particles:
So not only can you focus the subject in Somali, but in three different ways. I understand how to conjugate these words. What is the difference among the meaning of these words? In linguistics, we say, “There is no such thing as a true synonym.” What is the nuance of difference among these three?
Luckily I discovered a new linguist (new to me—he’s been around for awhile), Georgi Kapchits, who has looked into this question. He wrote, “Sentence particles in the Somali language and their usage in proverbs.” He is an amazing linguist who, even though he’s Russian, speaks learned to speak fluent Somali, as you can see here.
I haven’t had a chance to dig down into Dr. Kapchits’s work, but I look forward to it.
So I have a few areas to work on coming up. I look forward to writing more, too. It really raised my awareness of some difficulties I’m having with the Somali language.