Learning a foreign language is fun. Especially if you’re learning it because you really want to (not because your parents told you to, or you think you have to because it may come in handy one day). When you have plenty of time and a burning interest, you can discover a whole new, fascinating world, you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to know.
I’m very happy that I am using Peter Rudiak-Gould’s “Practical Marshallese” as my textbook. Actually, it is not only my textbook – it is my guide to Marshallese culture. Apart from teaching me how to make proper sentences, it also shows me the lesser-known characteristics of the Marshallese language, which are nowhere to be found in other books.
Not so long ago I learnt about non-verbal communication. I was really surprised that the author even mentioned it in a language textbook; after all, non-verbal communication has nothing to do with grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc. Six lessons later and … another surprise! Interjections. Wow! Are you kidding me??? You never learn about interjections from a coursebook! You learn about tenses, yes. You learn about prepositions, yes. You learn about WH-questions, yes. But interjections?
After my initial astonishment had passed, I started reading the author’s commentary. “Marshallese has a variety of ‘interjections’ (like ‘wow!’, ‘darn!’ etc. in English). Using them in the right situations, but not too liberally, will make you sound much more Marshallese”.
That’s surely true. However, when I saw the Marshallese interjections, I knew that using them will not necessarily be easy.
In your native language, you use interjections automatically. You don’t have to think about them; whenever the need arises, you simply utter an appropriate word. You know exactly which word to choose and where it should go.
Foreign interjections can pose a bit of a problem. First of all, I have no idea where to put them. Inside of a sentence? After a sentence? Before a sentence? Is there a strict rule or can I place them wherever I want? And second, I’m not 100 percent sure of their meaning.
In his textbook, Peter Rudiak-Gould shares some of the most common Marshallese interjections:
ōrrōr / ōrrōrōr / ōllōl / ōllōlōl / edded / eddeded = annoyance, frustration
ōrōr = ‘oops’
ūkūk = annoyance
alo / aluo = telling someone that what they’re doing is annoying and unacceptable
warrar / warrarar = when you are surprised and impressed
ekōḷōk / wau (from English) = amazement, ‘wow’
āāāāā (like the ‘a’ in ‘pat,’ but harsh and nasal) = getting the attention of a child in order
to scold him or her
io = surprise when something sudden and unexpected happens
sssss = shooing away animals
ooooo = ‘oh,’ ‘I see,’ ‘that’s interesting’
ooo, iōp! = giving the signal for everyone to start something at the same time
As you can see, they are all explained. And some of them seem “logical” (for lack of a better word). You come across an angry dog, you say “Sssss”. You want to show your interlocutors that what they’re telling you is interesting, you give them your best “Ooooo”. But “eddeded”, “warrarar”, “aluo”, “ūkūk”? I can’t even imagine how to use these. Should it be something like this: “Eddeded, iaar meḷọkḷọk ki eo aō!” [“Oh my, I forgot my key!”]? Am I heading in the right direction here? By the way, have you noticed my progress in sentence building? I think I’m getting better and better (#proud); but of course it may be only my illusion.
Now, I know that some of you might think I’m crazy to concern myself with interjections when I’m still at the beginning of my Marshallese adventure. I don’t need them; at least not right now, not when I can’t even make a complex sentence. If that’s your opinion, you’re right. The truth is, I got interested in interjections because they are mentioned in the textbook I’m using. That’s it. But I must admit I find them fascinating. They are like a hidden, secret language within a language. And only those who are fluent have the privilege of knowing them. I won’t lie, I would like to be part of that group one day.