written January 31, 2017
When we first moved into Mouk and started building the house, our big prayer request (as far as language was concerned) was that our mouths would somehow be able to make the sounds of the Mouk language — particularly the uvular R. The uvular R is a sound you have to make way back in the back of your throat, almost as if you were gargling. When we were in language-learning training in the U.S., the uvular R was the one sound that we couldn’t pronounce, so it was really intimidating finding out that the uvular R is all over the place in the Mouk language. Plus, making that sound by itself is one thing, but then trying to pronounce a uvular R in the middle of a bunch of other consonants and vowels was quite the challenge when we first arrived. We probably sounded worse than babies learning how to talk.
A few weeks into language learning, while still struggling to make the uvular R sound, the biggest thing that was tripping us up was trying to remember all the different possession words and how the verb prefix changes based on the vowel of the verb root. In English, if I want to say “my Father” or “my banana” or “my house” or “my leg,” I can use the same possessive pronoun “my” for all those things. But in Mouk, there’s a different way of saying “my” for each of those things. They split all nouns into categories — and so how you say “my” depends on which category the noun is. Banana is in one category, so to say “my banana” I’d say “ngagu obul”, but house is in a different category, so I’d need to say “lugu ninu” to say “my house.” Relatives and body parts are two totally different categories, and they get the “my” attached right to the word:
“lugude” my mother
“ligaw” my father
“luku” my opposite gender sibling
“golngong” my stomach
“kongu” my leg
“omtugu” my eye
And then of course there’s a different word for “your”, “his”, “our”, and “their” in each of those categories, too, which means our brains were often tired and hurting from trying to keep everything straight. We would often get mixed up and use the wrong possession word, which put us probably in the toddler category, since most of the 4 year olds here in Mouk can keep it all straight! It’s still sometimes a challenge to know which category some nouns fit into, but looking back, we can see just how far God has brought us in learning all that stuff.
Now, we can put together basic sentences, but we struggle to know where to put the “glue.” We can say “I get up. I eat. I go outside. I walk around.” But connecting all those things into a story that flows better and doesn’t sound quite so choppy is a challenge. We’re still trying to discover and figure out how to use words that connect thoughts and express the relationship between different events — words like and, then, therefore, so that, because, in order to, with, instead of, like, but, otherwise, maybe, unless, etc.
Besides that, we’re still learning lots of new words, but now the challenge is not only remembering the new words, but differentiating between new and old words that sound super similar to each other. Previously, when we would try to remember or recall a new word, we just had to be able to tell it apart from maybe 100 – 300 other words (“what was that word? Oh, I think maybe it started with an ‘s’ and had a ‘p’ in it somewhere”). Now, however, with the pile of words in our brains is getting close to 1,000, there are more and more words in there that are starting to sound alike, and it’s easy for our brains to accidentally pull up the wrong one.
“mgo” (he leads) and “mko” (he hits)
“empi” (you pull it out) and “empmi” (you ask)
“pegim” (up there, above) and “pelim” (breadfruit)
“wom” (you) and “won” (thing)
“galo” (sweet, tasty) and “galou” (vine)
“mongmong” (nausea) and “mangmang” (quiet because it’s deserted) and “mangamanga” (crazy)
So, when we accidentally say, “what did you pull out?” instead of “what did you ask?” we just get to laugh and keep going. We may speak better than we did when we were “toddlers” in the Mouk language, but we’ve only made it as far as maybe being 4-6 year olds now. 🙂 I wonder what we’ll sound like when we’re teenagers?