Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 185th good thing about Lagos: I don't have to speak Yoruba!

When we were visiting Eruobodo House (see my previous post), I asked a staff member there about the name and where it came from. He said it was the name of the home when it was a private residence -- it's a Yoruba expression that means something like "the river doesn't fear the one who jumps into it." When we were dissecting the syllables of the word, he said that "odo" can mean "river," but it can also mean other things depending on the tone used when it is spoken. It can also mean "mortar" or "zero." Yoruba is a tonal language, which I'm sure would make it a very difficult language to learn. He spoke "odo" the different ways that would change the meaning of the word, but it was really hard for me to hear the difference. He admitted that often it is the context the word is used that will give hints to the meaning. He wrote down the word "Igba" five times with different diacritical marks over the "i" and the "a" -- which designate the pitch the syllable should be spoken. (I don't have the patience to figure out how to type those on my keyboard.) But "igba" spoken with different tones can mean either 200, time, garden egg, rope, or calabash. I'm afraid that even if I had the patience and motivation to learn some Yoruba, I would never be understood, so it's a very good thing that I can usually understand and be understood in English here!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog is a fascinating read for me as an expatriate Nigerian. Your comments are honest and refreshingly respectful, and you have an adventurous spirit and an eye for detail that really brings your writing alive. I hope Lagos treats you and your family well for the rest of your stay.