Ni Gure Tximeleta Txikia Naiz

The beauty of learning languages from the ground up, grammatically, as I am doing with Basque, is that you make sudden leaps forward. For the first two weeks, when people asked me what I had learned, I couldn’t do much more than smile sheepishly and explain that I’d only been to a few classes. The first week we’d only learned case endings, with a single word – mutil, boy – to fill out the paradigm. The second week, we learned some vocabulary, mostly animals and basic adjectives, and I could at least put a few words together. Nothing useful, but I could say “two big goats”, or ‘the young girl’, but I didn’t know a single verb, so I still couldn’t put a sentence together. This initial frustration is why, I think, popular modern teaching methods try to jump right into useful phrases and silly songs, but I think the best thing to do is to be patient, and push through, because afterward things start moving really quickly.

Apple Butterfly, from a Basque Blog. http://iratioihane.blogspot.com

Last week, we learned family terms, and, more crucially, our first verbs. To be, in present tense, and reflexive verbs, in past tense. It’s only a start, but it lets us make sentences. A surprising number of them. I can say, for example, that “two big goats have washed themselves” – “ahuntz handi bi garbitu dira”, or “the young girl is my sister” – “neska gaztea nire ahizpa da.” I can even say that “the sons and daughters of my aunts and uncles are my cousins” – “nire osaba-izeben semea-alabak nire lehengusua-lehengusinak dira”, or, as I realized quite happily, sing the DDR song “I-I-I, I’m you’re little butterfly!” – “Ni Ni Ni, Ni gure tximeleta txikia naiz!”

Basque has different words for a brother, depending on whether it’s the brother of a girl, or of a boy. Same thing for sister. My sister is my ahizpa, but my cousin Trevor’s sister is his arreba. Whereas Spanish will just double the masculine noun to make a collective noun encompassing both males and females (padres for padre – father and madre – mother), Basque smashes them both together, creating semea-alabak for children, and the unwieldy lehengusua-lehengusinak for cousins. Sometimes, simply out of a finite number of linguistic possibilites, Basque grammar winds up closer to English than Spanish – nouns in genitive, for example, appear before the word they modify, like English and unlike Spanish, so our teacher keeps explaining that you have to swap them to understand that amaren aita means mother’s father, when to me it’s quite clear!

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Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 20:13  Leave a Comment  
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