Remembering isiZulu

It’s funny what your brain remembers. While learning a new language, it’s been especially entertaining to make note of what my brain retains. While I sometimes struggle to remember how to properly respond to questions like “Where are you going?” or “Where have you been?”, I have no problem quickly and fluently telling someone to go home – “Hamba ikhaya”. Recently while reflecting on what isiZulu I am remembering, an obvious common theme was hard to ignore.

The Zulu I seem to hold on to the most, outside of daily greetings, revolves almost exclusively around the people I know and love.

Thembi has become sisomdala wami – my older sister.
Sibu is bhuti wam – my brother.
Mazwi is isithunzi sami – my shadow.
My little brothers are bafana bami – my boys.
Thula is sisomcane wami – my younger sister.
Mthobisi is bhutiomcane wami – my younger brother.
I jokingly call Mndeni mkwenyane wami – my husband.

And that’s just the names I call them.

Baba sometimes calls me indodakazi – daughter.
Thembi calls me sisomcane – younger sister.
Thula calls me sis wam – my sister.
Mndeni jokingly calls me koskaz or makhoti wami – my wife.
My congregation calls me Nomusa – grace.

It’s definitely not classroom language learning. There’s too much emotion tied into my limited vocabulary.

I’m certainly not going to be fluent before I leave. But I will keep learning new names and making new friends and expanding my vocab. And if I ever screw up, there’s always a willing teacher near by to help correct my mistakes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t the only Zulu I know, just the stuff that’s the most emotionally charged and therefor, the easiest to recall.


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