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.

Which fish, what kind of fish, you and who else?

            There are even more ways to make questions in Marshallese.

– To say ‘which ___’ or ‘what kind of ____’, use the following words after the noun:

ta which?
rot or rōt or tor what kind of?

For example:

Āne ta?   = island/which = Which island?
Ek rōt?    = fish/what kind = What kind of fish?

– There is a question word that means ‘and who else?’:

et and who else?

For example:

Kwe et?  = you/and who else = You and who else?
Amy et?  = Amy/and who else = Amy and who else?

– There is yet another word for ‘why,’  which is used in a special way:

jaaṃ why?

You must put it right after a subject pronoun.  For example:

Ejaaṃ jerbal?  = he-why/work = Why is he working?
Kwōjaaṃ jeḷā  = kajin ṃajeḷ? you-why/know/ language of/Marshall = Why do you know Marshallese? (i.e. How do you know it?  How did you learn it?)

(As you can see from the second example, ‘jaaṃ’ can sometimes imply ‘how.’)

– There are some question words that always go by themselves, never with a sentence:

Ewōr ta? What’s up?  What’s happening? Ebajeet? Why?
Eita? What’s the matter? Bwe? Why?
Eita ___? What’s the matter with ___? Bwe ta? Why?
Eet? What’s the matter? Bwe et? Why?
Tu ia? Where exactly? Im ta? In order to do what?

Vocabulary

deḷọñ to enter, to go inside
diwōj to exit, to go outside
jimattan half, half of
kōn menin so (as in ‘I was sick, so I didn’t go to school’), therefore
joḷọk iien or kọkkure iien waste time
karjin (from English) kerosene
laḷ in the world, the Earth
ḷain (from English) line, clothesline, line up, form a line
ṃōttan ___ in (a certain amount of time), ___ remaining Ex. Ṃōttan ruo = Two left/two more
peeḷ (from English) bell

Pronunciation Practice – How to pronounce the name of your island correctly

This book uses the new spelling system, which spells words very close to how they are pronounced.  The only exception is the names of places, which have been spelled according to the old system for so long that they are almost never spelled with the new system.  However, so that you can pronounce the names of atolls, islands, and parts of Majuro correctly, here are the real pronunciations.  As you can see, some of them are quite far from the normal spelling:

Usual Spelling Actual Pronunciation Usual Spelling Actual Pronunciation Usual Spelling Actual Pronunciation
Ailinginae Aelōñinae Jemo Jāmọ Maloelap Ṃaḷoeḷap
Ailinglaplap Aelōñḷapḷap Kili Kōle Mejit Mājeej or Mejeej
         Aerok Aerōk Knox Ṇadikdik Mili Mile
         Je Je Kwajalein Kuwajleen Namorik Naṃdik
         Woja Wōja          Ebeye Ibae Namu Naṃo
Arno Arṇo or Aṇṇo Lae Lae       Majkin Ṃajkōn
         Ine Ine Likiep Likiep Rongelap Roñḷap
         Kilane Kilañe Majuro Mājro Rongerik Roñdik
         Tinak Tinak        Ajeltake Ajeltake Taka Tōkā
Aur Aur        Delap Teḷap Ujae Wūjae
Bikar Pikaar        Ejit Ājej Ujelang Wūjlañ
Bikini Pikinni        Enemanit Āneṃanōt Utirik Utrōk
Ebon Epoon        Laura Ḷora Wotho Wōtto
         Taka Tōkā        Rairok Rairōk Wotje Wōjjā
Eniwetak Ānewātak        Rita Rita     Wodmej Wōdmeej
Erikub Ādkup       Rongrong Roñroñ    
Jabwot Jebat        Uliga Wūlka    
Jaluit Jālwōj or Jālooj        Woja Wōja    

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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