Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taking a Guess at Nyungwe

David Ker posted the first five verses of John in Nyungwe and asked if his readers could figure out any of the words. Here are the verses and my notes:

1 Pakutoma akhali fala ndipo falalo likhali pabodzi na Mulungu. Ndipo iye akhali Mulungu. 2 Iye pakutoma akhali na Mulungu. 3 Bzinthu bzentse bzidalengedwa na iye, tsono palibe ciri-centse cidalengedwa mwakusaya iye. 4 Mwa iye mukhana moyo. Ndipo moyoyo ukhali ceza ca wanthu. 5 Ceza cikhabvunika mumdima. Mdima ulibe kucikunda.

Some nouns are easy: Mulungu is “God,” ndipo translates logos (whether it specifically means word, message, reality, etc., I don’t know for certain). Mdima seems to be “darkness,” ceza is “light,” wanthu would be “people,” and moyo “life.” None of these appear to have case endings. I guess the reduplication of –yo in verse 4 is something other than case.

I would guess that pa- is a prefix/preposition corresponding to “in.” Kutoma would then equal “the beginning.” I guess that bodzi is also a morpheme (“in bodzi with God”). The prefix/preposition mu- also overlaps with English “in.” Na seems to correspond to “with.” Ca also looks like a preposition, relating “light” to “people.” Perhaps “for”?

I don’t see an article.

Iye and –khali are doing a good bit of work, which suggests that they mainly convey grammar rather than semantics. I’m going to guess that iye is a pronoun (“he”) and the –khali words are forms of “to be.” Akhali goes with words of the class containing ndipo (masculine?) and ukhali with words of the class containing ceza and mdima (feminine?).

I notice possible morphemes bzi-nthu, bz(i)-entse, c(i)-entse, and wa-nthu. Could –nthu (or a chunk of it) mark the plural?

Bzi- appears with both nouns and verbs. Bzinthu bzentse should correspond to “all things” and bzidalengedwa to “were created/came to be.” Bzi- alternates with ci- on the verb for coming to be (dalengedwa). Do bzi- and ci- mark semantic classes?

While I’m on verbs, cikhabvunika must be “shines/has shined” and kucikunda “overcomes/has overcome.” Both have the ci-. If the translation preserves the distinction in tense between these two words, the reduplicated ku- in kucikunda looks like a tense marker. But there ought to be a pronoun in that clause with the antecedent ceza, so maybe ku- is a pronominal prefix.

Ulibe ought to be the negation in the last clause. There’s a palibe in verse 3 that could negate things coming to be apart from him.

That’s probably as close as I can get. I’m particularly intrigued by the bzi-/ci- alternation. And the fala words stumped me. Here’s my gloss:

In-beginning was fala word falalo was in-bodzi with God. Word he was God. 2 He in-beginning was with God. 3 Bzi-things bzi-all bzi-came-to-be with him, but not ciri-ci-all ci-came-to-be apart-from him. 4 Mwa him in-himself life. Word life was light for people. 5 Light ci-shines in-darkness. Darkness does-not it-overcome.

1 comment:

David Ker said...

Nice work. fala=word, ndipo=conjunction.

An interesting translation problem in this passage is that Bantu nouns are marked for "gender" more than a dozen in all and so verbs agreeing with fala should have the prefix li- but the second word is a-khali instead of li-khali. English translations struggle with this passage as well not knowing whether to call "word" it or he.