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.

When you come, when you came, what, where, and if

In Lesson 19 you learned that the word for ‘when’ is ‘ñāāt.’  However, if you want to say ‘Leave when it is finished’ or ‘I’ll fish when it is low tide’ (that is, when the word ‘when’ is not implying a question), then use the word ‘ñe’:

Rọọl ñe eṃōj               = (not Rọọl ñāāt eṃōj) leave/when/it-finished = Leave when it is finished
Inaaj eọñōd ñe epāāt   = (not Inaaj eọñōd ñāāt epāāt) I-FUTURE/fish/when/it-low tide = I will fish when it is low tide

– If you are saying ‘when’ in the past tense, such as in the sentence ‘I didn’t know how to fish when I came,’ then you must use ‘ke’ (not ‘ñe’) for ‘when’.  Since this is only used for the past tense, having the past tense afterward is optional:

Iaar jaje eọñōd ke ij itok         = (not Iaar jaje eọñōd ñe ij itok) or Iaar jaje eọñōd ke iaar itok = (not Iaar jaje eọñōd ñe iaar itok) I-PAST/not know/fish /when(past)/I-PRES/come I-PAST/not know/fish /when(past)/I-PAST/come   = I didn’t know how to fish when I came

– ‘Ñe’ can also mean ‘if,’ so there is some ambiguity:

Bojrak ñe kwōṃōk           = stop/when,if/you-tired = Stop when you’re tired or Stop if you’re tired
Rōnaaj ṃōñā ñe rōkwōle = they-FUTURE/eat /when,if/they-hungry = They will eat when they are hungry or They will eat if they are hungry

If you want to make sure that you say ‘if,’ not ‘when,’ then say ‘eḷaññe,’ which means only ‘if.’

– If you are saying ‘if’ in a sentence like ‘I don’t know if they are working’ or ‘I am going to see if they are studying’ you can use either ‘eḷaññe’ or make the phrase into a question by adding ‘ke’:

Ijaje eḷaññe rej       = jerbal            or Ijaje rej ke         = jerbal              I-don’t know/if/they-PRES/work 1 I-don’t know /they-PRES/?/work = I don’t know if they are working = I don’t know are they working?   = I don’t know if they are working
Inaaj lale eḷaññe    = rej ekkatak or Inaaj lale rej ke = ekkatak I-FUTURE/look/if /they-PRES/study   I-FUTURE/look /they-PRES/?/study = I will look if they are studying = I will look are they studying?   = I am going to see if they are studying

– If you are using the word ‘what’ without implying a question (such as in the sentence ‘I know what you did’) then do not use ‘ta,’ but rather ‘men eo’ (‘the thing’) or ‘men ko’ (‘the things’):

Ijeḷā men eo kwaar kōṃṃane= I-know/thing/the/you-PAST/did-it = I know what you did
Roñjake men ko ij ba             = listen to/thing/the(plural)/I-PRES/say = Listen to what I say

– If you are using the word ‘where’ without implying a question (such as in the sentence ‘Go to where there are fish’ then do not use ‘ia,’ but rather ‘ijo’ (‘there’) and put ‘ie’ at the end of the sentence:

Etal ñan ijo ewōr ek ie   = (not Etal ñan ia ewōr ek) go/to/there/there are/fish/in-it = Go to where there are fish
Eṃṃan ijo iaar ḷotak ie  = (not Eṃṃan ia iaar ḷotak) it-good/there/I-PAST/born/in-it = I like where I was born

Vocabulary

ṃwilaḷ deep, profound
pejpej shallow
uklele (from English) ukulele, to play the ukulele
kautiej respect, to treat respectfully
baro (from English) borrow
innām ḷak ṃōj and then
kadek poisonous (of fish), poisoned (from eating fish), intoxicated, drunk, get drunk
ek in kadek poisonous fish
dānnin kadek alcohol

Pronunciation Practice – ‘t’

            You have already learned some Marshallese letters that are pronounced differently in different contexts.  For instance, ‘j’ usually sounds like a cross between ‘s’ and ‘sh,’ but when it is right between two vowels it sounds like a cross between ‘z’ and the ‘g’ in ‘mirage.’

Marshallese ‘t’ is another letter that is pronounced differently in different contexts.  Usually it is pronounced close to an English ‘t.’  But listen to the way that Marshallese people say the following word: ‘tutu.’  The first ‘t’ sounds a lot like an English ‘t,’ but the second one sounds more like English ‘d.’ (If they are speaking very carefully and deliberately, both t’s may be like English ‘t.’) Thus, Marshallese ‘t’ usually sounds like English ‘t,’ but when it is right between two vowels, it sounds more like English ‘d.’

Here are some words to practice on:

Sounds like English ‘t’   Sounds like English ‘d’  
tutu ‘take a shower’ tutu ‘take a shower’
tata ‘-est’ tata ‘-est’
ti ‘tea’ itok ‘come’
etto ‘a long time ago’ katak ‘learn’
rūtto ‘old’ jota ‘evening’
ṃanit ‘culture’ letok ‘give to me’
lọjet ‘ocean’ ralitōk ‘eight’

Practical Marshallese

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

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

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply