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.

How, how much, how long, how big (More about questions)

In Lesson 19 you learned some common questions words (‘who,’ ‘what,’ etc.) and learned that they can be put in many places in the sentence, not just at the beginning.  There are some exceptions to this.  For the words for ‘how,’ ‘how much,’ ‘how long,’ and a certain word for ‘why,’ you must put them at the beginning of the sentence.  Here are these words:

ewi wāween or enret or ālmen how? ewi joñan how much?
ewi toon how long? (in time, not length)
ta unin why?

To use these words, put ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. afterwards.  For instance:

Enret ami kōṃṃane?  = how/your(plural)/do-it = How do you guys do it?
Ewi joñan aṃ jeḷā        = kajin ṃajeḷ? how much/your/know /language of/Marshall = How much Marshallese do you know?
Ewi toon aṃ pād ilo     = Majuro? how long/your/located/in/ Majuro = How long have you been in Majuro?
Ta unin ami ṃōṇōṇō?  = why/your(plur.)/happy = Why are you guys happy?

(Remember that there is another word for ‘why’ [‘etke’] which is used exactly like in English: ‘Etke kwōj jerbal?’ means ‘Why are you working?’)

– ‘Ewi joñan’ can also be used for the ‘how’ in ‘how big?’ ‘how tall?’ ‘how small?’ etc.:

Ewi joñan an kilep?           = how much/its/big = How big is it?
Ewi joñan aṃ nañinmej?   = how much/your/sick = How sick are you?

– If you want to say any of these sentences in the past or future, add ‘kar’ or ‘naaj’ either before the question word, or after the word for ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc.:

Naaj enret aer kōṃṃane?         = or Enret aer naaj kōṃṃane?     = FUTURE/how/their/do-it how/their/FUTURE/do-it = How will they do it?
Kar ewi joñan am nañinmej?     = or Ewi joñan am kar nañinmej?  = PAST/how much/your/sick how much/your/PAST/sick = How sick were you?

– You must be careful when you want to say ‘how.’  If you mean ‘how’ in the sense of ‘in what way,’ ‘by what means,’ use ‘ewi wāween,’ ‘enret,’ or ‘ālmen.’  If you mean ‘how’ in the sense of ‘is it good?’ ‘do you like it?’, then use ‘eṃṃan ke’ (‘is it good?’).  If you mean ‘how’ in the sense of ‘what’s it doing?’ ‘what is its condition?’, then use ‘ej et’ (‘it does what’).  For example:

Ewi wāween aṃ  = ṃōñā mā? how/your/eat/breadfruit = How do you eat breadfruit? (In what way?  By what means?)
Eṃṃan ke           = Ṃaḷoeḷap? it-good/?/Maloelap = How’s Maloelap? (Is it good?  Do you like it?)
Ej et lañ?             = it-PRES/do what/weather = How’s the weather? (What is it doing?  What is its condition?)


joob (from English) soap
joob in tutu soap for bathing
joob in kwaḷkoḷ soap for washing
kijeek fire
hand, arm, wing
pedped reef, foundation
tōmak believe Ex. Ij jab tōmak eok = I don’t believe you Ex. Ij tōmak bwe kwōnaaj bar itok = I think you will come back
wōn turtle
bōjrak stop
kọkkure to mess up (something), waste, break (a rule), violate, hurt, ruin, damage, harm

Pronunciation Practice

More about j

In the Pronunciation Practice in the last lesson, you learned that ‘j’ is pronounced halfway in between ‘s’ and ‘sh,’ or ‘ts’ and ‘ch.’  The only time when this isn’t true is when ‘j’ is surrounded by vowels on both sides, such as in the words ‘ṃajeḷ’ and ‘mijak.’  In this case ‘j’ is pronounced halfway in between English ‘j’ (as in ‘jam’) and the ‘g’ in ‘mirage.’  Start by pronouncing an English ‘j’ (as in ‘jam’) and slowly turn it into the ‘g’ in ‘mirage.’  If you stop halfway in between, then you have the pronunciation of Marshallese ‘j’ when it is between vowels.

Here are some words to practice on:

ṃajeḷ ‘Marshall Islands’ rijikuuḷ ‘student’ kōjerbal ‘use’
mijak ‘scared’ kajin ‘language’ bwijin ‘many’

Practical Marshallese

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

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

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply