Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Malawian English

As is oftentimes the case when speaking a language that is not your mother tongue, Malawian English has some wonderful eccentricities.

Let me start by saying that the English spoken here is phenomenal. The vocabulary is varied and incredibly formal, oftentimes poetic. I am amazed at the ability of my friends and colleagues to express
themselves verbally and orally in their second, third or fourth language. I can't even seem to figure out how to express myself in French, let alone Chichewa.

Chichewa is the national language of Malawi, although there are many other languages from different ethnic groups. Chi-chewa is the language of the Chewa peoples', Chi-yao is 'the language of the Yao
peoples', you also have Chi-tonga, Chi-tambuka... you get the picture. English is called 'Chi-zungu' (azungu are foreigners).

A major feature of Chichewa is that a sound is not complete if it does not end in a vowel. This means that English words that have a hard consonant at the end oftentimes take an 'ee' sound in Chichewa tradition.

My friend Neev became Neev-y, a meeting is oftentimes a meeting-y, people don't think – rather they 'think-y', etc.

Another common pronunciation is interchanging Rs and Ls which I understand can be a hard distinction for many non native English speakers (in the same way I have trouble shoving 2 consonants together
to pronounce words like Nsima, Nkhota, Mzungu, etc).  My name frequently becomes ResRey, RasRai or RestRies, or some variation thereof. On one occasion I was buying a bus ticket and was asked for
my name for the ticket. When the ticket was issued to RAISRAI.

I rarely hear these linguistic nuances discussed by Malawians, but today was a very surprising exception.

I sat in on a very detail oriented 3 hour meeting this morning (on planning an HIV advocacy event, nothing to do with linguistics or English). By the end, all of the participants seemed tired and ready to be finished.

When asked for any final remarks, a man put up his hand and said: 'I do not claim to be an expert in the Queen's language. However, as a Malawian and a former English teacher, I must emphasize that the word is pronounced CONFIRM and not CONFILM. In the same way, it is a BIRD not a BILD. When I and R are together in a sentence, it makes anIIIRRRR sound, not ILL. In addition, it is called the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Health-y.'

The room erupted into laughter. To the right of me, my colleagues were practicing saying HEALTTTHHH without an 'EE' sound at the end. To the left, a colleague who jokingly mispronounces my name was saying 'Did you hear that Rastries?!'

The meeting chair then thanked the former English teacher for his addition, conFIRMED that there weren't any further comments, and closed the meeting.

No comments:

Post a Comment