I updated a few days ago about how I'd recently been picking up the Somali books again, had a new dictionary, etc. I thought I'd write a little bit more about what I'm up to right now.
...Actually I think many of you would find it fairly boring. When I attack a new language on my own, I do not start off by learning to say hello or how are you or could I have a glass of water, please. I prefer to come at it from a number of different directions, probing fairly deeply each time. And they are not ways that let me have a conversation right away, I'm sorry.
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Mind you, I don't have to do it this way all the time. When I attacked Italian for the first time a few years ago, I mainly did it through Pimsleur audio recordings, which are very much directed toward useful conversation. It worked rather well, actually, especially combined with some work on Duolingo, which helped me grok the grammar a little more visually. I got through thirty audio lessons and managed to comport myself relatively well, meaning that people asked me, "Are you Australian?" when I tried to speak Italian to them.
But neither Pimsleur nor Duolingo has a course yet. I could take a class at any of several local colleges and universities, but I don't have time to keep up a schedule now. So I am on my own with books. I think this is a better use of my time right now, to grasp what I can on my own, because I'm actually reasonably good at taking in grammar and things without help, and I might be able to get myself to a place where, with help, I can move efficiently.
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For the last few days I've been learning about nouns. Let me tell you what I've learned.
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Basic grammar point that you might not know if you've never taken Latin or Russian or Somali: a declension is a family of nouns that change their forms in similarly regular ways according to the job they're doing in the sentence. Latin has five declensions. Russian has three, not counting some irregular nouns. Once you've learned the pattern or two or three that govern a declension, you should be able to predictably spell and pronounce the rest of the nouns that belong to that family.
From my experience with Latin, I've found out that the easiest way for me to learn new nouns is to learn them together with other nouns of the same declension. I don't have a hard time remembering meanings-from-wordshapes, so learning them in context is wasteful. It's better for me to learn clusters that behave similarly, so I can associate them with one another. So I spent some time this past week compiling lists of Somali nouns, first one declension, then another, and so on.
Actually the lists were a little more fine-grained than that. Masculine and feminine singular nouns can both exist in the same declension, and behave just a bit differently, so I made separate lists for masculine and feminine nouns in each declension. I got through four declensions so far. Somali has seven in all.
One thing that is interesting: Sometimes nouns switch gender when you pluralize them. So, for instance, warqád, letter, is feminine, but warqado, letters, is masculine.
Here's a sampling.
Declension 1, feminine singular
- abaár, drought
- beér, garden (won't have trouble remembering that one)
- daár, stone house
- heés, song
- koofiyád, hat
- jaamacád, university
- macallimád, female teacher
- mindí, knife
- naág, woman
- nabád, peace
- saaxibád, female friend
- walaál, sister
- xeéb, coast
Declension 1, masculine singular
- búur, mountain
- géed, tree
- jídh, body
- réer, family or group of people
- sánad, year
- waláal, brother
The difference between walaál (sister) and waláal (brother) is audible; there's a tonal difference. I know this because I have an audio accompaniment to one of the textbooks I picked up. The best way I can explain how it sounds to me is this: of the two a's in the second syllable, you can hear both of them -- it's a long syllable -- and when you hear walaál there's a rising tone, as if the speaker asks "walaal?" Whereas in pronouncing waláal the speaker says "Wal-aal." rather definitively, as if clearly explaining how to say the word. It almost sounds to me like "Sister?" is the question and "Brother." the answer.
Declension 2, masculine singular
- adéer, paternal uncle
- baansíin, petrol (this is a loanword from Italian -- do you recognize it? Benzina.)
- baasabóor, passport (another loanword)
- gaádhi, car
- ínan, boy
- kallúun, fish
- laábbis, pencil (pretty sure this is also an Italian loanword)
- mádax, head
- saaxíib, male friend (wonder if this is from "sahib?")
- sác, cow
- súuq, market (Arabic loanword for sure)
- xísbi, political party
Declension 3, feminine singular
- gabádh, girl or young woman
- galáb, afternoon
- kibís, bread
- maalín, day
Declension 3, masculine singular
- gárab, shoulder
- hílib, meat
- ílig, tooth
- wáran, spear
- xádhig, rope
Declension 4, masculine singular
- áf, mouth or language
- cáan, fame
- dáb, fire
- dhúl, earth
- hádh, shade
- róob, rain
- sháag, tire
- wár, news
- wíil, boy or son
There are noun cases in Somali, but I haven't dug into them yet. I started with the rules for forming plurals and trying to observe some differences between masculine and feminine nouns. So far the pattern has been final-vowel stress in the feminine singular, penultimate-vowel stress in the masculine singular, no stress in the plural. I wonder if that pattern will hold as I learn more nouns.
In Declension 1, plurals are mostly formed by adding -o, or -yo if the word ends in an i. Also you remove the stress tones. So gardens is beero and knives is mindiyo. All the plurals are masculine, even for feminine nouns.
In Declension 2, you also add -o to pluralize (or -yo after i, j, s, or the guttural consonants) and remove stress tones, but you must double certain consonants first: paternal uncles are adeerro. All the plurals are feminine.
In Declension 3, you lose a vowel before adding the o. So breads are kibso. And sometimes change a consonant: teeth are ilko. And all those plurals are masculine.
Most fun of all, words from Declension 4, which always end in consonants, are pluralized by adding an a plus a repeat of the last consonant sound. So mouths are afaf and shades are hadhadh.
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I am hand-writing long lists which I am culling from a dictionary that actually had the declensions marked (not all the dictionaries bother with little things like n. f. , which I find sort of amazing as a language learner). After I make it through all the declensions, I believe I will re-organize the lists and hand-write them again into further categories, such as the final consonant which affects whether one adds (for example) -o or -yo. I find that hand-writing the lists rather than typing them, and re-writing them by hand in different combinations, really helps me remember them. I hope to finish the declensions and their plurals this weekend, and then start exploring how case declension works.
It's the kind of thing that sounds boring to some people, perhaps even unpleasant, but I assure you I find perfectly satisfying.
Like the other thing I did today, which was to take apart the dishwasher with my second son's help, and pick all the goop (and olive pits -- many, many olive pits) out of the crevices of the filter with a tool I scavenged from the middle schoolers' dissection kit. Extremely tedious. Extremely satisfying to manage to get hold of an individual string of celery vein that had gotten wrapped around some snag of plastic, and pull it out, a lot of other gunk coming away with it.
It's a terribly bad analogy, but because these are the two things that describe how I spent my day, you are stuck with them.
I live for these moments, you know? Hand-writing long lists of words and sensing patterns in them seems to feed my brain little dribs and drabs of dopamine. Language is cool.
Sometimes I think I missed my calling, until it's time to clean the dishwasher, I guess.