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.

I walk fast, I walk slow, I fish often, I fish sometimes

In the last three lessons you learned how to use ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. to say sentences like ‘I have eaten,’ ‘you have eaten.’  In this lesson you will learn how to use them to say sentences like ‘I walk fast,’ ‘you walk slow,’ ‘I fish often,’ ‘I fish sometimes’:

– In Marshallese, instead of saying ‘I walk fast’ you would say ‘it is fast my walk.’  For instance:

Eṃōkaj aō etetal         = it-fast/my/walk = I walk fast
Eruṃwij aṃ etetal        = it-slow/your/walk = You walk slow
Eṃṃan aṃ kōṃṃane = it-good/your/do-it = You do it well
Enana aer kōṃṃane   = it-bad/their/do-it = They do it badly

– In the same way, you can make sentences like ‘I fish often,’ ‘I usually fish,’ etc.  Here are some words you can use in this way:

emakijkij     = often eḷap                            = a lot
ejọkkutkut   = seldom edik                            = little
ekkā wōt     = usually, very often juon/ruo/jilu alen         = or  juon/ruo/jilu katten one/two/three times
eto              = for a long time

For example:

Emakijkij aō eọñōd        = often/my/fish = I fish often
Ejọkkutkut am eọñōd     = seldom/your/fish = You seldom fish
Ekkā wōt an nañinmej    = very often/his/sick = He is sick very often
Eto aō pād ilo Tōkā        = long time/my/located/in/Taka = I have been on Taka a long time
Eto aō jab lo eok            = long time/my/not/see/you = I haven’t seen you for a long time
Eto aō jañin lo eok         = long time/my/not yet/see you = I haven’t seen you for a long time
Eḷap ad idaak                 = a lot/our/drink = We drink a lot
Eḷap an Merina ekkatak = a lot/her/Merina/learn = Merina learns a lot
Edik am ṃōñā                = little/your/eat = You don’t eat very much
Ruo katten aō pād ilo Je = two/time/my/located/in/Je = I have been in Je twice
Jete katten am eọñōd?   = how many/time/your/fish? = How many times have you fished?

– For a few words, you can just put them at the end of the sentence like in English:

jidik a little, for a little while juon/ruo/jilu alen or juon/ruo/jilu katten one/two/three times
jet ien sometimes
aolep iien always lōñ alen often, many times

For example:

Kwōj ṃōñā jidik                       = you-PRES/eat/a little = You eat a little
Ij iukkure jet ien                       = I-PRES/play/sometimes = I play sometimes
Iaar etal ñan Ebeye juon alen = I-PAST/go/to/Ebeye/one/time = I went to Ebeye once


keememej remember Ex. Ij keememej = I remember
jibwe to take, to grab, to touch
būbū grandma
jiṃṃa grandpa
kōḷḷā to pay, to get paid
kōmat to cook
mat cooked (not raw)
kūbwe feces
kwōpej (from English) garbage
ḷotak to be born

Pronunciation Practice

r and d

Marshallese ‘r’ and ‘d’ are very different from English ‘r’ and ‘d,’ but very similar to each other.  To start being able to pronounce them, say the following sentence over and over: ‘dead-headed Ed edited it.’  As you do it faster and faster, you will notice that your tongue is going up towards the ridge behind your teeth and quickly tapping it before going back down.  This is equivalent to the untrilled (not rolled) ‘r’ in Spanish, and is very close to both ‘r’ and ‘d’ in Marshallese.  If you can master this untrilled ‘r’ then you can use it for both ‘r’ and ‘d,’ and Marshallese people will usually understand you.

If you want to be able to pronounce Marshallese ‘r’ and ‘d’ even better, than you need to learn to trill (roll) your r’s.  Say ‘oughta’ over and over, and feel your tongue tapping against the ridge behind your teeth.  Eventually, you will find the right tongue position where the air coming out of your mouth makes your tongue vibrate against the ridge behind your teeth.  Practice it every day until you get it.

If you want to pronounce Marshallese ‘r’ and ‘d’ perfectly, then you need to learn the slight difference between them.  ‘d’ is the same as ‘r’ except that ‘d’ is pronounced with the tongue a little bit closer to the front of the mouth.  ‘r’ is articulated on the ridge behind the teeth, but ‘d’ is articulated right at the top of the teeth.  This is a very difficult contrast to master, but it is worth trying.

Here are some words to practice on:

riṃajeḷ ‘Marshallese person’ dik ‘small’
ripālle ‘American’ dān ‘liquid’
ire ‘fight’ idaak ‘drink’
ṃōrō ‘kill’ jidik ‘a little’
karreo ‘to clean’ leddik ‘girl’
jorrāān ‘problem’ ḷaddik ‘boy’
iar ‘lagoon’ ad ‘our’
kōttar ‘wait’ pād ‘located’

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

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

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