Tuesday, November 10, 2009

a new language

My acquisition of Miskito is going well, though I still get impatient with the tedious process that is learning another language. One of my new favorite quirks of Miskito is that concepts are often created by putting together words that don't really seem to make sense together. For example, "Bili kaiks" means "Wait for me." Literally, though, it would be translated as "Look at my mouth." Some of the combinations make a sort of sense:"Latwan mai kaikisna" is "I love you," or literally "I see your suffering." "Kupia Kumi" is "peace," or "one heart." "To follow" is "nina blikbaia," or "to send name."

These phrases appeal to my delight in the hilarity of the nonsensical, and therefore make it easier to learn. Still, it means I very often understand a lot of the words somebody says, but I can make no sense of them when they are all strung together.

It also bolsters my efforts that everyone is thrilled to death that I'm learning their language. I am only now coming to appreciate the fact that the Miskito language carries their culture. In terms of heritage, almost everyone here is some mix of British, Dutch, African (Creole), mestizo, Miskito, and other indigenous groups. There are people here of every skin tone and other physical markers, and they're all intermixed. Language, not physical characteristics, seems to be the primary marker of ethnic identity. If you grew up speaking Miskito, then you're Miskito. Even if you didn't grow up speaking Miskito, speaking the language seems to more or less earn you some degree of acceptance as an insider. Even with the handful I've learned, some people are already joking that I'm Miskito now. It makes sense; I have heard from time to time, mostly from native speakers, that the language is seen as primitive and illegitimate. This is not generally said with anger; I feel like it may be a view that's been internalized. Hardly anyone who speaks it can write it, since only Spanish is taught in most schools, and it is the primary language in all the schools. Learning Miskito is a way of giving the language, and the culture, more legitimacy in the eyes of those who speak it.

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