MARSHALLESE 28.0: “KA-“ AND “RI-“

Marshallese is a funny language. Sometimes it’s awfully difficult; sometimes it’s as easy as ABC. Sometimes you have to try hard to memorize a particular word; sometimes you just read it and it’s already in your head. A real roller-coaster ride, which I cannot help but absolutely love!

The last few lessons I’ve gone through turned out to be pretty uncomplicated. The reason for this may be the fact that all I really had to do was learn a few words. Half of them I had  become acquainted with before, and the other half proved to be so logical and simple that I basically didn’t need to do anything special to commit them to memory. Reading the words – yes, just reading – every day for about a week was more than enough. But, you must be wondering what kind of words I am talking about. I’m here to tell you.

In Marshallese there are two very useful prefixes. The first one is “ka-“ and the other one is “ri-“.

I had known (well, sort of) how to use “ri-“ even before I read Peter Rudiak-Gould’s explanation. After a few years of learning Marshallese, it’s impossible not to notice that this particular prefix always indicates a person. I have learnt that it means “person of”, “person who”, or “person who is”, and it’s basically an equivalent to the “-er” ending in English. Apparently, it can be added to any proper noun or adjectival verb as well as to certain intransitive verbs.

So a VIP is “riutiej” (“a person who is high”), a criminal – “rinana” (“a person who is bad”), a student – “rijikuuḷ” (“a person of school”), a soldier – “rūttariņae” (“a person who fights in a war”). Logical, isn’t it? I am, for example, “rūkkatak” – “a learner”, because I am learning Marshallese, and Hawaiian, and Kiribati (whenever I say or write it, I feel so proud!). I’m also “ripālle” (“a white person”) – I am not “riṂajeḷ” (“a Marshallese person”). And what about you? What can you tell me about yourselves? Are you “riAmedka” maybe? (“an American person”)? Or perhaps “riJaina” (“a Chinese person”)? I surely hope you are not “rinañinmej” (“a sick person”) – especially right now!

Another great prefix is “ka-“. When put before nouns, it means “to hunt for” or “to look for”. Sometimes it changes to “kō-“, “kọ-“, or “kā-“ and the noun needs to be reduplicated – which may pose some problems – but generally it is easy to use. If you want to say that you’re hunting for crabs (Don’t do that please! Crabs want to live too!), you say “Ij kabaru”. Hunting for birds would be “kabao” (Again, don’t do that!). And hunting for turtles “kawōnwōn” (That’s forbidden, isn’t it?). Of course, instead of hunting you can always search for seashells for example. So please go “kalibbukwe”, and let all the animals lead peaceful lives.

“Ka-“ also means “to cause to” or “to cause to be” when placed before verbs or adjectives. This particular usage is slightly more difficult, but again, it’s nothing you can’t work through with a bit of perseverance and time. For instance, when you add “ka-“ to the verb “jeḷā” (“know”), you will get something that means “to make know”. We would translate it into English as “to announce”. So “kōjjeḷā” simply means “to announce”. Another example, a great one. “Ṃōņōņō” means “happy”; “kaṃōņōņō” – “to make happy”, or – in other words – “to amuse”. Or the word “eṃṃan” – “good”. Attach the prefix and you will have “kaṃanṃan”, which means “to make good”, so “to improve”. How cool is that?

I love it when something comes naturally to me. Well, who doesn’t? It’s always great when you don’t have to put much effort into what you are doing. But moments like this happen only occasionally. Most often than not you have to work hard or even harder to succeed. That’s why I savour all my triumphs. I don’t take them for granted. I appreciate what I have managed to achieve. This gives me power and motivation to go on. And believe me, this motivation is greatly needed when you are learning Marshallese, Hawaiian, and Kiribati… I should have chosen French… Oh, you know I’m kidding! Had I chosen French, I wouldn’t be having so much fun now!


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