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.

Ever since the Marshall Islands has had contact with the outside world, it has adopted many foreign words.  Most things from the outside world, and even some things native to the Marshall Islands, have been given foreign names.  Although some of these ‘loan words’ come from German, Spanish, and Japanese, the vast majority come from English.  This makes learning Marshallese vocabulary a bit easier for English speakers.  However, when these words enter the language, they become ‘Marshallized’ in order to fit in with normal Marshallese pronunciation.  For instance, since Marshallese has no f or v, these sounds usually become p or b in Marshallese.  In the same way, d becomes t, g becomes k, and h is dropped altogether.  So when you say a word from English, give it the best Marshallese accent that you can muster.  And if you don’t know the word for an object that comes from outside the Marshall Islands, just say the English word, and you will usually be right.

A good example of these loan words are the names of the days of the week and the months of the year, which didn’t exist in Marshallese before contact with the outside world.  Although these words come from English, try to say them as they are spelled in Marshallese.  By seeing the difference between the original English word and the way it turned out in Marshallese, you can get a sense of how the pronunciation of the two languages differs.

Marshallese English MarshalleseEnglish
Mande Monday JānwōdeJanuary
Juje Tuesday PāpodeFebruary
Wōnje Wednesday ṂaajMarch
Taije Thursday EprōḷApril
Bōlaide or Bōraide Friday MāeMay
Jadede Saturday JuunJune
Jabōt (from ‘Sabbath’)Sunday JuḷaeJuly
    ỌkwōjAugust
    JeptōṃbaSeptember
    Oktoba October
    NobōṃbaNovember
    TijeṃbaDecember

– Here are some phrases you can use to practice the days and months:

Raan in ta in?day/this/what/this What day is today?
Allōñ in ta in?month/this/what/this? What month is this?
Kwaar ḷotak ñāāt?you-PAST/born/when? When were you born?
Juun roñoul juon raan, juon tọujin ratimjuonbukwi ralitoñoul ruo June 21st, 1982

– Here are some of the most useful words in Marshallese that come from English.  Looking over these words is a quick way to build a large starting vocabulary:

jikuuḷ school
Amedka America
ṃaṃa  mom
baba dad
kain kind, type
wiik week
iiō year
awa hour
kilaj class
baamḷe family
peba paper
nōṃba number
piik pig
tọọl towel
taḷa dollar
ki key
ḷak lock
jāān cent
taktō doctor
ti tea
peen pen
pilawā flour
pinjeḷ pencil
wūnto window
minit minute
pija picture
pileij plate
baankek pancake
tebōḷ table
jipeeḷ spell
naip knife
pinana banana
tonaaj donut
luuj lose
wiin win
tūrak truck, car
jiṃaat smart
jukwa sugar
peet bed
tiṃōṇ demon
kwōpej garbage
retio radio
tāākji taxi
teej test
bọọj boss
jea chair
joob soap
juub soup
kuuṃ comb
ḷait elec. light
ṃōrō murder
boriñ boring
peeḷ bell
booḷ full
mājet matches
papōḷōr popular
jodi zorries
ḷaita lighter
pāāk back up
aij ice
jikka cigarette
ṃare marry
taibuun typhoon
wōteḷ hotel
jōōt shirt
ọọj horse
reja razor
tūkōt ticket
būrae fry
jọọl salt, salty
kūriij grease, fat
tibat teapot
weiḷ oil
pair fired
aṃa hammer
jebta chapter
karjin kerosene
ḷain line
tūrep trip, voyage
tọọl towel
uklele ukulele
bọọk box
ḷāibrāre library
ṃaiḷ mile
pātōre battery
waj wristwatch
bakōj bucket
juuj shoe
kiaj gas
kūta guitar
ḷaaṃ lamp
pakij package
Baibōḷ Bible
būrinjibōḷ principal
aujpitōḷ hospital
pāāk bag
pejtōbōḷ vegetable
kaal call
baṃ pump
kọpe coffee
jiit sheet
nuuj news
nuujpeba newspaper
talboon telephone
kea care
buruṃ broom
jāntōj sentence
tipi TV
baajkōḷ bicycle
iiaḷo yellow
kūre gray
kūriin green
bilu blue
būrawūn brown
oran orange
baijin poison
jibuun spoon
kaḷan gallon
kāānjeḷ cancel
wōpij office
būḷañkōj blanket
at hat
bato bottle
bọọk fork
ṃupi movie
tūraṃ drum
buḷajtiik plastic
kūrjin Christian
tūrabōḷ trouble
lojen lotion

Vocabulary

kwōle hungry, famine
maro thirsty
nañinmej sick, sickness, illness, disease
ṃōṇōṇō happy, glad
būroṃōj sad
illu (E: sometimes lilu) angry
mejki sleepy
ṃōk tired
mijak scared, scared of, fear

Pronunciation Practice Double letters

You may have noticed that some words in Marshallese are spelled with two of the same letter in a row.  This is not just a spelling convention (like spelling ‘hammer’ with two m’s in English) but rather indicates that the sound of the letter is pronounced for twice as long.  To get a feel for this, have a Marshallese person pronounce these common words: eṃṃan and ennọ.  Notice how the speaker holds the ‘ṃ’ and ‘n’ for twice as long as you would expect.  To get an even better sense of how double letters differ from single letters, have a Marshallese person pronounce these pairs of words which differ only in whether one of the sounds is double or not:

jān‘from’jāān‘money’
eṃṃan‘good’eṃṃaan‘man’
eto‘it is a long time’etto‘a long time ago’
ine‘seed’inne‘yesterday’

Practical Marshallese

Loan Words from Spanish

You can find loan words in the Marshallese-English Online Dictionary by doing a Google site search (site:trussel2.com/MOD/) for “from Span.”, “from Engl.”, “from Germ.”, or “from Japn.”.

Kiole Naṃdik tract.

baak {bahak}. From Span. barco. n. al.; n. pers. ri-baak; v. distrib. bōbaakak (ebbaakak), n. constr. baakin. ship; barque; frigate.

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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