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.

After you go, before you go, I see you go, I watch you go

– You can use ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. in yet another way in Marshallese.  To say ‘after you go,’ or ‘before you go,’ you say instead ‘after your go,’ ‘before your go’.  Here are the words for ‘after’ and ‘before’:

ālikin  or  ṃōjin after
ṃokta jān before

For example:

ṃōjin jerbal                  = after/work = after working
ṃōjin am jerbal            = after/your/work = after you work
ṃokta jān iukkure        = before/play = before playing
ṃokta jān aer iukkure  = before/their/play = before they play

– You can also use ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. to say ‘I let you go’ (‘I let your go’) ‘I watch you go (‘I watch your go’) or ‘I wait for you to go’ (‘I wait for your go’), etc.:

Rej kōtḷọk aṃ iukkure      = they-PRES/let/your/play = They let you play.
Ij alwōj am iukkure           = I-PRES/watch/your/play = I am watching you play
Kwaar lo aō etal               = you-PAST/see/my/go = You saw me go
Raar roñ ad bwebwenato = they-PAST/hear/our/talk = They heard us talking
Ij kōttar aṃ kōmat            = I-PRES/wait for/your/cook = I am waiting for you to cook

– You can also use ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. after the word for ‘because of’ (‘kōn’) to make a phrase like ‘because you are sick,’ ‘because you are working’:

kōn am nañinmej     = because of/your/sick = because you are sick
kōn an Alino jerbal   = because of/her/Alino/work = because Alino is working

(You can also just say ‘kōnke’ or ‘bwe’ to mean ‘because,’ as in ‘kōnke kwōnañinmej’ (‘because you are sick.’)

– This can also be used to say ‘Thank you for ____’

Koṃṃool kōn ṃōñā eo      = thank you/because of/food/the = Thank you for the food
Koṃṃool kōn aṃ jipañ eō = thank you/because of/your/help/me = Thank you for helping me

Vocabulary

kinaak to tell on, to report someone to an authority figure
bọọj (from English) boss, leader
bar head, head hair
bōran head of, head hair of, tip of
inepata worry, worried, upset  Ex. Jab inepata = Don’t worry
jea (from English) chair
jitto western half of an island
jittak eastern half of an island

Pronunciation Practice

‘j’

            Marshallese ‘j’ sounds something like English ‘s,’ ‘sh,’ ‘z,’ ‘j,’ ‘ts,’ ‘ch,’ or ‘garage,’ but it is not quite any of these.  To learn how to pronounce it more accurately, say English ‘s’ and then ‘sh.’  Say one and then the other over and over again and notice what your tongue is doing.  In both sounds the tongue is near the top of the mouth, and a little bit of air is escaping over it, making a hissing sound.  With ‘s,’ the tongue is behind the teeth, but with ‘sh’ it is farther back, behind the ridge that is behind the teeth.  Now pronounce ‘s,’ hold it, and slowly turn it into ‘sh.’  If you stop halfway in between, then you have Marshallese ‘j.’

            ‘j’ sometimes sounds different than this, but it is always pronounced in the same place in the mouth, halfway in between where English ‘s’ and ‘sh’ are pronounced.  Another pronunciation of ‘j’ other than the one described in the paragraph above is as follows: pronounce English ‘ts’ (like in ‘pots’) over and over and slowly change it into ‘ch’ (like in ‘chat’).  If you stop halfway in between, you will have this other pronunciation of ‘j.’  Try saying these words with either the s/sh pronunciation or the ts/ch pronunciation:

jaab ‘no’ ṃōj ‘finished’ ejjeḷọk ‘there are no’
juon ‘one’ aebōj ‘drinking water’ kajjitōk ‘question’
jān ‘from’ mej ‘dead’ kajjioñ ‘try’

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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