My Rwandan friend, Marie- Josée, and her English-speaking colleague at the trauma hospital, Cecile, taught me some Kinyarwanda (Language of Rwanda). Just a few words and phrases to help me be polite and get through the military checkpoints on the major roads. Things like, I don’t understand (simbyunva), which came in handy after I greeted a soldier politely in his language and then he let loose with a stream of Kinyarwanda.
I learned to greet people politely and respond in kind, to count to one hundred, and phrases like “I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m thirsty, come here (ngwino hano)”. I could ask someone his/her name (witwande?). I could read various medical-related phrases in the pamphlets we prepared to teach people hygiene and sanitation. And I knew some foods.
I couldn’t really converse, but I picked up a fair amount back then. I wish I could remember more of it. But I feel the same about all the other languages I’ve studied to some degree– like Portuguese, Hebrew, German and Greek.
I love how some words are so similar from language to language. I love figuring out why that is so. If I ever win the lottery (which I won’t because I don’t play the lottery), I plan to go back to school for a linguistics degree.
What unusual languages do you know? What would you do if you won the lottery?