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Jula 101

Welcome to your first (and possibly last) lesson of this lovely West African trade language, Jula!  I decided to do this for a few reasons:  1) because I thought you might like to know a little bit about what I’m speaking, and 2) because I need a way to safely process what I’m learning so that my head does not explode.  Ready?  OK, we’ll start with the alphabet…

The Jula alphabet has 28 letters.  It does not have Q and X but has 4 different ones.  The first is depicted as a Greek epsilon (in this case, I will bold the e).  It’s sound is similar to the E in “pet” whereas the regular E sounds more like the vowel in “pray”.   In addition, there is an N that makes a n-y sound like “senorita,” an N that makes a soft n-g sound like “ringing” and an open O that is depicted as a backwards C but in this case, I will just bold it.  Other things, the C is pronounced as a “ch” sound just as in Italian when the C precedes a vowel.

Prepositions are incredibly important in Jula.  They also happen to be all over the sentences (seemingly at random).  Their meanings also change depending on where you put them and what verbs you’re using.  In short, if you mess up the structure of a sentence, more often that not you’re saying something completely different, quite possibly even in a different tense.  An example using the ubiquitous “ye” followed by the direct translation:

I am an American:  N ye Ameriken ye. [I am American am.]

I ate rice last night: N ye malo dumu kunu wulafe. [I past-participle rice eat last night].]

He wants couscous with tomato sauce:  A bi basi ni jabaji ye fe.  [He/she tense marker couscous with onionwater (yes, the literal translation of jabaji or tomato sauce is onion water) other half of “with” want.]

As you can see, “ye” is used (among numerous other uses) as “to be,” as a past participle, and as the other half of “with.”  It’s impossible to translate “ye.”  It has no sense in English–or any other language for that matter.  Other pronouns include be/bi, la, ko, ka, ma, ra and probably a bunch of others i forget.

Ka fe is a peculiar verb.  It means “to have” and “to want” depending on how you use it.  Below is an example.  Also, verbs come in their infinitive form with “ka” in front just as we put “to” in front of our verbs in English.  However, “ka” is also used as a way to determine possessives and as a way of splitting two part sentences so be careful.  Now, on to a very dangerous example:

I have a wife:  Muso bi n fe.  [Wife/woman tense marker I have.]

I want a wife:  N bi muso fe. [I tense marker wife/woman want.]

Needless to say, a good understanding of Jula is necessary so as not to end up prematurely married.  Now, on to numbers.  Thankfully they’re more straightforward than in English.  I won’t count all but here’s an example from 1 to 10:  kelen, fila, saba, naani, duuru, wooro, wolonfila, seegi, konondon, tan.  11 to 19 is tan ni kelen, tan ni fila, etc (“ni” means “and” but can also form another possessive sentence but we won’t get into that).  20 is mugan then the 30 is bisaba, 40 is binaani, and so on.  100 is ceme and 1000 is waga.  This is all fine and good but when dealing with prices, one must multiply by 5.  I know, confusing right?  So let’s practice:  If someone in the market says something costs 20 (“nin ye mugan ye”) really means 100 CFA, 50 really means 250, and so on.  Thus, when I got my clothes for swear-in tailored, it cost me waga kelen ni ceme fila–1200 or, more accurately 6000 CFA (roughly USD 12…not bad for two pairs of hand tailored pants and a vest).  This can be confusing but you do get used to it and practice is always good…

In Jula, building nouns from verbs and verbs from nouns is very important.  It forms a peculiar circle.  Take for instance, the verb “to eat”:  ka dumu.  Depending on how the verb ends, you add ni, ri, or li to form a noun.  In this case, we add “ni” to form “dumuni” or “food.”  From here, we can add the verb ka ke (to do/to make) and form dumuni ke.  We’re now back to a verb which can b used interchangeably with ka dumu.  This practice is woven in and out of sentences and requires VERY attentive listening or else you’ll get VERY lost.

Let’s jump ahead.  We’ve got some basics down so I’m going to give a full phrase explaining what I’m doing here in Burkina:

The Peace Corps is work by the American government.  I will live with the Burkinabe here to work for 2 years to assist a village:  Koridelape ye Ameriki guwerneman ka baara da do ye.  Nne bina sigi ni Burkinabe ye yan, ka baara ke san fila ka dugu mogo deme. [Peace Corps is America government of work is.  I will live with Burkinabe (other half of “with”) here, to work year 2 to village give assistance.]

Hopefully that was a good lesson for you.  That’s all for now, and I hope you enjoyed jumping into my world for a little bit!  If you do have questions regarding tenses or really anything, feel free to email me.

Also, I was informed that my cousin, Maria, and her husband, Costis, in Greece have just had their first kid so congratulations to them!  That is all for now.  Stay tuned for awesome news of swear in, coming in under 2 weeks!  Take care, all!

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Jason Tsichlis

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September 2011