Learning Nivacle

Posted on November 4, 2010


One of my tasks in the field is to try to pick up Nivacle so that I can at least have basic conversations with the members of my study communities.  There’s no ‘Learn to Speak Nivacle’ book.  I’m learning with the aid of a Spanish-Nivacle dictionary (written by Jose Seelwische), random lessons from people in town, and help from field assistants.

Here are some of the basic words I’ve learned so far (keep in mind that the spelling is based on the Spanish way of pronouncing the letters, so “j” is actually pronounced as an English “h” sound, etc.):

  • Janam, or just ‘nam –  Hello/Good day
  • Tajunash – How are you?
  • Tajulhei – I’m well.
  • Ta ey? – What’s your name?
  • Ame – No
  • Jech – Yes
  • Apis – Here it is.

This last word is how I know I’m the talk of the town.  I went looking for one of the nurses in her home one day, to let her know about some patients who were waiting at the health post.  Her family was sitting around in a circle having a terere break, and when I walked into the yard I heard “Apis!” and then they started laughing.  Looks like the subject of their conversation showed up!  :)

Each syllable of Nivacle words is pronounced very deliberately.  It’s not a language for fast talkers, or people who slur their words and syllables to together.  Which means I’m gonna have to slow down!

There’s another characteristic of Nivacle speakers that’s really striking: they inhale sharply to indicate ‘yes’.  This is like how Westerners nod their heads to indicate ‘yes’.

In the next couple of days I’ll post some video clips where you can hear spoken Nivacle and see what I mean by the ‘inhaled yes’.

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Posted in: Language