Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Cheery Countenance

Mad about What?

Part 1

Growing up in a foreign country can pose a problem when it comes to learning languages. But growing up in Nigeria was especially challenging. As a child I was faced with a mix of British English, American English w/ southern colloquialisms mixed in, Pidgin (the broken English spoken in many parts of Africa) & Yoruba (the native language of the tribe where we lived.) For instance, if someone came to my door wanting to know if my mother was home, the person might ask, “Is your mother home?” - if he or she was American, or “Your mom in?” - if he was Sothern American. But if British, he would likely ask, “Your mum abote?” If he was a Nigerian, he would ask, “Momma dey fa de haus? Or just “Momma dey?” (Pidgin) or he could ask, “Momma unko?” (Yoruba) And an MK child like me had to be able to understand and converse in all of these languages and dialects.

I was especially confused by the terms, palava & wahalla. Growing up in a time of political and civil unrest, I heard both terms often and I understand them both to mean “troubling talk or discussions” as in “There is plenty palava going on!” or “plenty wahalla”. To me they were interchangeable as if they had the same meaning… but when I came back to America no one understood either word! As it turns out, “palava” is actually the British word palaver which means much discussion about something and usually implies a pointless discussion, where as wahalla is the Pidgin word for trouble. In context a conversation using wahalla might go like this:

Question: “Ah! Ah! Watin happin now, O?!”
Answer: “Me, I no sabi -O! Dat madame jus dey give me wahala!”

(Translation: Question – “What happened now?” Answer – “I don’t know. That woman just gave me a hard time!”)

And then there was my Nigerian friend who came to the states for a seminary education. He told a funny story about a controversial class discussion where based on his response, the professor asked him if he was mad. He exclaimed in no uncertain terms, “NO! I am not mad!!” This response only convinced the professor even more that my friend was indeed mad (angry). So, the professor said, “Oh but I think you are mad. It seems like you are.” Well, this just insulted and infuriated my friend further. Why? Because in my friend’s British influenced culture, the word mad meant crazy. So, the more the professor accused him of being mad (crazy), the madder (angrier) he got.

Here are some other British / American words and what they mean:

boot – shoe (American), boot – the trunk of a car (British)

biscuits - bread eaten with gravy (American), biscuits – cookies (British)

bonnet - something a woman wears on her head like a hat (American), bonnet - the front end (or hood) of a car (British)

In the next blog, I will continue with this line of thought.

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