[episode 13] Learning otjihimba language

Vocabulaire et grammaire otjihimba

Back in the village, I decide to start learning the language. I am the kind to make a six months silent retreat in a Tibetan temple. When arriving, I wanted to see how it is possible to communicate without a common language that is to say only with gestures, looks and smiles. I could manage like that for three months. It works, but you soon feel the limitation. It is ok for daily life but limited to understand the origin of a tradition. Thanks to some friends of the capital city Windhoek, I got a small booklet destined to Owambo kinderkarten, Owambo being the majority ethnic groups of the country. It includes a selection of words represented by pictures and with both the English and the Oshiwambo translations. I only have to add the translation in Otjihimba. It has become our main occupation during the afternoons under the tree and the evenings around the sacred fire. I notice that only the children are literate but they never agree about spelling! As for the parents, they often ask me to decipher administrative documents in English when they have to go to the nearest town to go to the health centre or the town hall in charge of the census.

Learning this language is fascinating. It is very far from our Latin bases and compels me to get used to classes of nouns and verbs and their associated prefixes. I discover how rich the vocabulary is such as the five thousand words to describe a cow. It’s like the Inuit who have many different words to describe the snow. The children take a great pleasure in making me revise my vocabulary in the evening according to their own interest. As much as learning the language, I learn more and more about every one of them.

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