Learning nDo is one of the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted to learn. If you haven’t learned a language other than your own – imagine having to take every paragraph you are about to speak, and starting at the end of it and saying it from the very last word to the very first one, in backwards order. Add to that that you’ve forgotten 1/2 of your vocabulary, and that all the words you do remember has 3 extra letters added to them – some at the beginning, some at the front, and some inserted into the middle. That is how my mind feels when I’m trying to learn nDo.
So what makes language learning challenging? Why does it take an average of 10,000 hours of learning before you’ll be fluent in a second or third language? I’m no linguist, and cannot explain the science of language to you, but I thought that you might find it enjoyable to get to learn what nDo style of speaking looks like.
- Vocabulary… Your culture, profession and expertise all determine whether you have a wide or small range of vocabulary when speaking about certain topics. If you’re an IT guy, you can toss out vocabulary that would make me feel like a foreigner. If you’re a doctor, you can describe my physical condition to me in a way which would seem much more frightening than it is!
This is true as well on a cultural level – what your culture cares about will be evident in its vocabulary. Take our culture, where the kind of clothing we wear matters much, and then, look at our immense vocabulary – are you wearing a shirt, a t-shirt, a top, a coat, a blouse, a jersey, a jacket, or a sweater? Does it have a V-neck, a turtle neck or a boat neck? Does it have a collar, a zipper, buttons or a pocket? Is made from viscose material, cotton, lycra, denim, wool or silk?… Or are you in this culture in PNG, where your language existed decades before you started wearing clothes?
The nDo ‘clothes vocabulary’ is extremely small, and almost all of it is in Tok Pisin. But we have 16 different (discovered) words for “to harvest” depending on how the food gets harvested. We have 10 different words for to carry, depending on how it is carried (on your head, under your arm, on your back, in your mouth, on your shoulder etc…) We also have tons of different words for “to break.” Just yesterday I sat with a girl and told her “that kid broke a stick” – she looked at me in a way that showed me she was puzzled, and I asked her to correct me. Turns out there is a different word for breaking a stick… So tomorrow I’m going to sit with my language helper and discuss the 10 different words that I’ve heard so far for “to break” and try and figure out in which different contexts you would use each one and why.
- Idioms – Allow me to give you a taste of Maweroro weather. Some days, the sun throws strongly, and it looks at me and cooks my skin and makes me die for water. Other days the eye of the sun is covered by the clouds. Sometimes big water comes down and the lightning will throw and the thunder will speak. Other days, the clouds come down and covers the ground. In the evenings, the moon might be doing the eye thing (full moon), and the bugs will be doing the noise thing…
We do not realise how much we speak in idioms! Here is a fun one for some of the ways in which we use to word run in English… We run errands, we have running water, we have a runny nose, we are up and running, we are quickly running to the store, we run a risk, our imagination runs away with us, we run the show, we run into a brick wall, we run out of time, we are running empty on fuel, we run something into the ground.
In my language test I had to communicate “the pig stood next to the tree (or under the tree)” and our word for tree and fire is the same word in nDo – “te”. And so, as I checked my answers with my language helpers, they thought I said “next to the fire” The way I could’ve avoided this misunderstanding is by using the correct nDo idiom – the pig stood at the root of the tree.
- Word order is different too. In a simple nDo sentence, you’ll start with a subject, then follows the object, then the verb. Here is a sentence that has an adjective, a time word, and is a negative sentence – “naru piru ke kama kio yoteno” which would translate very roughly like this “time, a long one, you not I am seeing” What a funky order to saying “I haven’t seen you in a while!”
Here is another example of word order and training your brain how to say things differently: The nDo is “Tesangano qato huing tini kini dini asa sukepo reto ngoro tongo pungo pungo tongo se rero kumbeno qato situng dini kini dini asa harini nguroko neyoteto” a very direct translation would translate like this (Speaking about a pig) Strong stick, on it, we cook it, its hair cooks, doing this finished, ok, knife, with it, get it, cut in pieces cut it, get all of it, take it, a pot, in it, we cook it, its blood finishes (and) doing this, ok, it dries and like thát we eat it.
- In nDo, we don’t have a word for “and.” When it is a noun, it just gets listed in a string – flour, milk, sugar, eggs. With a verb, however, instead of conjugating every single verb, you put a “ro” suffix at the end of every verb until you get to the last verb, then you’ll reveal the actor of those verbs. For example: “Tongoro, kumbeno windorongoro, qaro, neteno” – a rough translation being: “cut it, throw it into the pot, cook it, eat it with that last ‘teno’ ending telling you the listener that I am the one who carried out all the preceding actions.
- Our language has a lot of suffixes and also some infixes and prefixes.
Example 1: Will you show me? – “Yutungereweyape?”
- Yutung – to show.
- ngere – me
- weya – you will
- pe – quesion suffix
Example 2: From our garden – Konarimboro
- Ko – garden
- nari – the two of ours
- mboro – from it.
Example 3: All of you run! – Kenggengoyi
- Kenggengo – to run
- yi – the command ending for “all of you”
Example 4: I want to help you – Samaqanggereweyero
- Samaqang – to help
- gere – you
- weyero – I want to
- In nDo, we have singular, plural and dual actors & subjects. Tok Pisin has this too.
What are you doing – ke do te yote?
What are you two doing – yari irisa do te yotiri?
What are you all doing – ye sosong do te yotenggo?
- The hardest thing in nDo is something called “switch subject” Whenever the subject switches, a suffix gets added to the verb. There are special suffixes for every kind of subject, depending from whom/what to who/what it switches. It happens all the time when we speak. Here is an example from my language helper telling me how they prepare pandanus. She’ll say – After the pandanus cooked (special marker, switching from the pandanus) we take a stick and hit it (special marker, switching from us) until it because soft (special marker, switching from the pandanus again) then we drink it. In this simple sentence there are 4 changes in “actors” – the marita cooking, the people hitting it, then it changes again to the marita becoming soft, and back again to us eating it. I have only started to touch on these and still have a lot of practice ahead of me to start importing this into my own speech.
There you go – some nDo highlights! Language learning is challenging, but we do find joy in the work God puts before us every day. We know that God revealed Himself to us using language – the Gospel is Good News, a Precious Message! In order to get the Living Water to our friends here, we need to lay the language pipes. And so we’ll just nDo it! Some of our friends here believe that we must be learning their language because there is something inherently special & powerful about their language. Almost like this Word of God that we’ll proclaim to them will function like magic spells, like “abracadabra words,” opening to them a hole new world of ease, riches and pleasures (for example, enabling them to teleport, since they hike such long distances to their gardens & family) and that we’ll unlock that treasure for them. We are so grateful that the treasure of God’s Word is far more precious and valuable than anything our flesh can desire. Psalm 19:10 – “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7-11) We are so excited to proclaim the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to them!