Monday, 4 April 2016

C is for... Chichewa

Chichewa is the language spoken in Malawi - especially southern Malawi. English is the official language of Malawi but most Malawians learn Chichewa first. Many rural people don't know any English.
I've been to Malawi a number of times and frequently been meeting people whose English is limited or indeed non-existent. As a consequence, I've learned a few phrases in Chichewa over the time I've been there - mostly greetings and the usual yes, no, please, thank you. Some of these phrases helped me to add colour and authenticity to the parts of my first novel which were set in Malawi.

I find Chichewa a really complicated language! It's not like any other language I know! In many languages, the ends of words change with tense or with person. I play. I played. He/she plays. In Chichewa, sometimes the start of the words change (and sometimes the words have infixes that change rather than suffices or prefixes!).

For example, at the start of the day, a greeting between two people goes:
Mwadkuka bwanji? (How are you? The phrase is specific to the morning as it means: Have you woken well?).
Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu? (I have woken well. And you?)
Ndadkuka bwino, zikomo. (I have woken well, thank you.)
Zikomo (thank you)

Later in the day it changes to:
Mwaswera bwanji? (How are you? The phrase is used after morning and means: How have you spent the day?)
Ndaswera bwino, kaya inu? (I have spent the day well, and you?)
Ndaswera bwino, zikomo. (I have spent the day well, thank you.)
Zikomo (thank you)

I must confess that beyond asking people how they are, saying please and thank you and a few other phrases, I'm stumbling, but I'm pleased to have learned at least a little of the language! That said, I did make a BIG mistake when trying to order the local fish - chambo - and accidentally ordered a plate of marijuana - chamba.

Tionana! (see you soon!)

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