Swearing In

Today is our official swearing in ceremony. No, I’m not actually at a computer, I just typed this up a few days ago since I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to have internet access again – and WordPress doesn’t seem to work well on a Blackberry.

This is the next big moment in PST, although after site announcements it’s kind of felt like we’re just waiting to get out into the field. Before, we’ve only been PCTs – Peace Corps Trainees. Now, though, we can call ourselves volunteers for real. We have our ceremony and take our oath, perhaps in front of important people like the ambassador. We’ve prepared a speech. One that has also been translated into isiZulu. One that yours truly will have to present in front of such a prestigious audience. Meep. At this point, I will have probably been rehearsing it like crazy and doing my best to actually get the tones of isiZulu right. I’ll have to jot down here how it all went – though if you don’t see anything on the news about some crazy American resurrecting the Zulu Empire, I probably didn’t mess up the speech too badly.

Now, tomorrow we’re off to our sites. Time to see the Sisonke region for the first time in my life – home for the next two years. I’ll probably feel compelled to write the next blog post in Zulu. Feel free to picture me wearing traditional skins and waving a spear and shield. Hambani kahle, y’all.

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Survival isiZulu

It would be fun to be able to speak (read: butcher) isiZulu with others while I’m learning it. And we’re having a two-for-one deal today: replace “ngi-” with “ndi-” and most of these phrases work in isiXhosa! How practical! So here are some basic greetings and such:

  • Sawubona: Hi (to one person)
  • Sanibonani: Hi (to multiple people)
  • Mnumzane (or mnumzana): sir
  • Nkosikazi: madam
  • Yebo: yes, appears to be a typical response to “sawubona”
  • Cha: no (see notes on pronunciation below; this sounds nothing like what you think)
  • Unjani: how are you? (u-: you, singular, pronounced with a higher tone than the next syllable; pronounced with a lower tone, you are saying “how is he/she”; -njani: how)
  • Ninjani: how are you? (ni-: you, plural)
  • Ngikhona: I’m fine (ngi-: I)
  • Ngiyaphila: Another way of saying “I’m fine”; I think it means something like “I am living” (ngi-: I; -ya-: present tense, although not always used)
  • Wena: and you? (we-: you, singular; na: and)
  • Sala kahle: good bye (to a single person remaining behind; literally, “stay well”)
  • Hamba kahle: good bye (to a single person leaving; literally, “go well”)
  • Salani kahle: good bye to a group staying
  • Hambani kahle: good bye to a group leaving
  • Ngiyabonga: thank you (ngi-: I; -ya-: present tense)
  • Ngicela: please (ngi-: I; cela: request)
  • Uxolo: excuse me (u-: you, singular; again, make sure that the “u” has a higher tone on it than the next syllable)
  • Ngiyaxolisa: I’m sorry (ngi-: I; -ya-: present tense)

Notes on pronunciation: See this page and click on “Zulu” to hear the phrases. Stress the second to last syllable in a word. The second to last syllable in a phrase gets really drawn out, so “sawubona” sounds like “sawubooona”. Oftentimes, the last vowel of a word is chopped off, especially when followed by another word. So “sawubona, unjani?” can be pronounced “sawuBOnunJAAAni?”.

There are lots of little details about how to pronounce the different letters, which I’ll skip for now (although if the “k” sounds like a “g” to you, that’s because it does. You actually breathe in air while pronouncing it). The most important: if you see the letters “c”, “q”, “x”, these are clicks – fun! (I really want to get an African name that has a click in it.) “c” is pronounced like the “tsk, tsk” sound you make in reproach; start with your tongue at your teeth. “x” is pronounced like you are calling a horse; start with your tongue about where you would make an “l” sound. I’m still working on “q”; all sources say that it sounds like a cork popping, but I’m a bit fuzzy on the mechanics.

But the clicks aren’t the hard part. Two of them even show up as sounds that English speakers make. The hard part is putting a vowel after them. Have fun!

Sanibonani! Goeie dag!

Started work on Afrikaans and isiZulu.* Both are beautiful languages, though I admit that occasionally the guttural nature of Afrikaans gets to me (though it depends on the speaker). isiZulu sounds like you should be telling a spellbinding story in it. To hear some basic isiZulu, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIqKZo0NSN8. To hear some Afrikaans, click on links here: http://www.openlanguages.net/Afrikaans.

There are actually 11 official languages in South Africa, and even I am not crazy enough to try to learn them all. However, I can actually find resources for these two (and I think I have a bit of a grasp on English already; though if I can come back with a South African accent, all the better) and I stand a good chance of using these two.

The media in SA is evidently mostly in English, although English is only the 5th most spoken language there. The top 3 are isiZulu, isiXhosa (closely related to isiZulu and the native tongue of Nelson Mandela), and Afrikaans. And that X in isiXhosa? Nothing as ordinary as a simple “ks” – it’s one of those famous click consonants. Yay for learning cool weird sounds.


* Sometimes you will see the name of the language as “Zulu”. Why? Well, in a language like Spanish, there are masculine and feminine nouns. Masculine Spanish nouns tend to end in -o, and feminine nouns in -a. Languages in the Bantu family, like isiZulu (and isiXhosa, seSotho, or Kiswahili – also known as Swahili) have multiple noun categories usually indicated by prefixes. European languages tend to use genders to group nouns. Bantu languages are more abstract. So, for example, umZulu is a Zulu person, amaZulu are the Zulu people group, and isiZulu is the Zulu language.