This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

This lesson introduces some common phrases in Marshallese. They are not only useful for conversation, but also for practicing reading and pronouncing Marshallese. Practice pronouncing these phrases with a Marshallese person if you can.

Between each phrase and its English meaning, you will see a literal translation. This is an intermediate translation step between the Marshallese and the English. It tells you what each word in the Marshallese phrase means. A ‘/’ shows the break between two words. For instance, in ‘iọkwe aolep’ (‘hello everyone’), ‘iọkwe’ means ‘love’ and ‘aolep’ means ‘all,’ so the literal translation says ‘love/all’ to tell you what each word means. A ‘-’ indicates the break between two parts of a word. For instance, in ‘elukkuun eṃṃan’ (‘I’m doing great’), the ‘elukkuun’ is made up of ‘e’ (‘it’) plus ‘lukkuun’ (‘really’), so the small print says ‘it-really’ to tell you what each part of ‘elukkuun’ means.

Hello and goodbye

Iọkwe love Hello or Goodbye
Iọkwe iọkwe love/love Hello
Iọkwe eok[ love/you(singular) Hello or Goodbye (to one person only)
Iọkwe koṃ love/you(plural) Hello or Goodbye (to more than one person)
Iọkwe aolep love/all Hello everyone or Goodbye everyone
Bar lo eok again/see/you(singular) See you later (to one person only)
Bar lo koṃ again/see/you(plural) See you later (to more than one person)

(Note that there is no phrase in Marshallese for ‘Nice to meet you’)

Good morning, afternoon, evening, and night

Morning! (from English) Good morning
Iọkwe in raelep love/of/afternoon Good afternoon
Iọkwe in jota love/of/evening Good evening
Good night! (from English) Good night

How are you?

Eṃṃan mour? good/life How are you?
Ej et mour? it-PRESENT/do what?/life How are you?
Eṃṃan it-good I’m fine
Elukkuun eṃṃan it-really/good I’m doing great
Eṃṃantata it-good-est It is the best. 
I’m doing fantastic!
Ebwe it-okay I’m so-so
Enana it-bad I’m not doing so well
Elukkuun nana it-really/bad I’m doing horribly
Ak kwe? what about/you How about you?

What’s your name?

Etaṃ? name-your What’s your name?
Eta in ____ name-my/of/____ My name is _____

Thank you and you’re welcome

Koṃṃool you-thanked Thank you
Koṃṃooltata you-thanked-est Thank you very much
Kōn jouj about/kindness You’re welcome
Jouj kindness You’re welcome

No thank you

Koṃṃool ak ij jab you-thanked/but/I-PRESENT/not No thank you
Koṃṃool ak ij jab kijōr you-thanked/but/I-PRESENT/not/take offer No thank you

I’m sorry

Joḷọk bōd throw away/mistake I’m sorry or Excuse me
Joḷọk aō bōd throw away/my/mistake I’m sorry or Excuse me
Ejoḷọk it-thrown away You’re forgiven
Ejoḷọk aṃ bōd it-thrown away/your/mistake You’re forgiven
Ej eṃṃan wōt it-PRESENT/good/still That’s okay
Jab inepata not/worry Don’t worry about it
Ejjeḷọk jorrāān there is no/problem No problem
Ejjeḷọk problem there is no/problem No problem

Dialogue

A: Iọkwe eok. A: Hello.
B. Iọkwe.  Eṃṃan mour? B: Hi.  How’s it going?
A: Eṃṃan.  Ak kwe? A: Good.  How about you?
B: Ebwe.  Etaṃ? B: So-so.  What’s your name?
A: Eta in Essa. Ak kwe? A: My name is Essa.  What about you?
B: Eta in Lisson.  Bar lo eok. B: My name is Lisson. See you later.
A: Bar lo eok. A: See you later.

Vocabulary

Note: There are two main dialects of Marshallese, the Western (Rālik)dialect spoken on the western chain of atolls, and the Eastern (Ratak)dialect spoken on the eastern chain of atolls. In the urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye, there are speakers of both dialects.  The two dialects are very similar to each other, but some words are different.  Since the Western dialect is considered more standard, all the vocabulary in this book is listed first in the Western dialect, and an ‘E:’ indicates the form in the Eastern dialect when it is different.

aet yes
jaab no
iọkwe hello, goodbye, love
aolep all, every, everything, everybody
lo see, find
eṃṃan (E: sometimes ṃōṃan) good
nana bad, inedible
ennọ (E: sometimes nenọ) tasty, tastes good, delicious, edible
lukkuun very, really, absolutely, totally Ex. Elukkuun eṃṃan  = It is really good

Practical Marshallese

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

I am a Spanish and Marshallese translator. Iaar katak Kajin Majol ilo Enid, Oklahoma. marcomh.com

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