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.

My, your, his, her (Possessives)

– In Marshallese there are words for ‘my,’ ‘your,’ ‘his,’ ‘her,’ etc.  These are called ‘possessives.’  Here they are:

my or mine
aṃ your or yours (when referring to only one person)
an his, her, hers, or its
an Jeremy Jeremy’s
an Anna im Natalie Anna and Natalie’s
ad our or ours (including the person being talked to)
am our or ours (not including the person being talked to)
ami your or yours (when referring to more than one person)
aer their or theirs

Things to notice:

1. Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘my’ vs. ‘mine,’ ‘your’ vs. ‘yours’ etc.  It has the same word for both.

2. ‘An’ by itself means ‘his/her/its,’ but if you put it before a name or noun, it is like ’s in English.  For example ‘an Luke’ = ‘Luke’s’

3. Like with all the pronouns, you must distinguish between singular ‘your’ (‘aṃ,’ referring to just one person) and plural ‘your’ (‘ami,’ referring to more than one person), and between inclusive ‘our’ (‘ad,’ including the person being talked to) and exclusive ‘our’ (‘am,’ not including the person being talked to).

4. As you listen to Marshallese you might notice that there are many other ways to say ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. For instance, with food, drinks, houses, parts of the body, and many other things, the way to say ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. is very different.  For now you don’t have to know about these complications, but if you want to know now you can look at Lessons 66-79.

– If you want to put ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. with a noun (for instance, to say ‘my book,’ or ‘your pencil’), you usually put ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. after the noun, and put the word for ‘the’ in between.  For example:

baamḷe eo aō       = family/the(singular)/my                     = my family
pinjeḷ eo ad           = pencil/the(singular)/our                   = our pencil
bok eo an Becca  = book/the(singular)/his,her,its/Becca   = Becca’s book

If it is a plural noun (for instance in ‘my books’) use the plural word for ‘the’ (‘ro’ for humans, ‘ko’ for non-humans):

bok ko aṃ      = book/the(plural)/your = your books
brother ro aō  = brother/the(plural)/my = my brothers

– You can use the English words ‘brother,’ ‘sister,’ ‘cousin,’ ‘uncle,’ ‘aunty’ (for ‘aunt’), ‘mama’ (for ‘mother’) and ‘baba’ (for ‘father’) in Marshallese.  For instance:

uncle eo aō   = uncle/the(singular)/my            = my uncle
aunty ro aer  = aunt/the(plural)/their             = their aunts
sister eo an   = sister/the(singular)/his,her,its  = his sister or her sister

(Remember to say ‘brother,’ ‘sister,’ etc. with a Marshallese accent, even though they come from English!)

There is another, more ‘Marshallese’ way to refer to relatives, but using it requires delving much more deeply into possessives.  If you are curious now, look at Lessons 66-79.

Vocabulary

jar to go to church, to attend a church service, to pray
kọọt steal
jook shy, embarrassed, ashamed
kōppojak (ñan) to get ready (for), to prepare (for) (also a euphemism for going to the bathroom)
juon men something
aolep men everything
juon armij somebody
aolep armij everybody
juon jikin somewhere
aolep jikin everywhere

Language Tip

Kinship words

The Marshallese system of kinship terms is very different than what you are used to in English.  The word for ‘mother’ is used for your real mother as well as your mother’s sisters, and the word ‘father’ is used for your real father as well as your father’s brothers.  In the same way, all the children of your mother’s sisters and your father’s brothers are considered to be your brothers and sisters.  For other aunts, uncles, and cousins, different terms are used that have no equivalent in English.  These days, Marshallese people understand and sometimes use the English categories ‘cousin,’ ‘aunt,’ and ‘uncle,’ but if you want to refer to relatives in the most Marshallese way, you might want to ask a Marshallese person about the real system of Marshallese kinship.

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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