A Tower, Grammar, and Non-Existent Sisters

Written on October 6, 2016

Good thing the Neno language doesn’t have masculine and feminine objects.  For those of you who have never studied Spanish, French or Portuguese, these languages (among others) have an odd and annoying characteristic which I have not yet discovered the reason for.  The only explanation I have heard was the following from Danilo, my oldest Brazilian brother, “It’s because, a long, long time ago, there was a tower.  The people started building it, trying to reach all the way to heaven, and then…”  At which point I usually interrupted him, because he had told this story many times, every time I asked a question related to grammar or pronunciation.

If you have never read the history of why there are different languages in the world, check it out here in Genesis 11:1-9.  Did you know it was God who confused the one language which originally existed in the world, so that people could not understand each other anymore?  This might seem like a detrimental act, but there was actually a very good reason for it.  Mankind was heading in a bad direction, a slippery slope towards self-destruction, by uniting their forces and intelligence for evil, disobedience, and trying to live life independently of God, the Creator who loved them.  So God stopped them in their tracks, for their good, and for our good, as their descendants.

Anyway, what happened at this tower, Babel, is truly the underlying reason for all the grammatical differences between the languages of our modern world.  Nevertheless, this fact (and it’s telling and retelling by my dear and entertaining brother) did not help me master the use of gender terms in Portuguese any faster.  Instead of having a generic word for “the”, there are two different words, one used for women, the other used for men.  No problem there, right?  It’s normally pretty easy to tell who is a woman or girl and who is a man or boy.  The problem comes when you want to talk about “the floor” or “the wall” in Portuguese.  Is the floor masculine?  Yes.  Is the wall feminine?  Yes.  You must know this, and use the correct form of the word “the.”  Why is the floor masculine?  Why is the wall feminine?  No particular reason.  Just refer back to the tower account.

Thankfully, Neno does not have this arbitrary object gender designation. One less thing to challenge our brains.  Hooray!  Good thing, since this morning, at 8:15, as I write this during a quick interval between “class” at a friend’s house and compiling and organizing all the notes, my brain is already threatening to explode, due to the new ways it is being stretched.  Yes, days in the village start early – I am sometimes “out and about”, already observing and learning before 7 AM.  This morning’s lesson seems simple enough – learning about sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and how to ask how many of each that someone has.  Ha.  Not so simple.

From what I can tell, there is NOT a Neno word that would be the exact equivalent of the English “sister” or “niece” (among other family terms).  None of you need to speak Neno, and sharing my current conclusions would be premature, so I will not waste time explaining the data collected up to this point.

Of one thing I am certain.  With this challenge to face, the best approach is a quick prayer asking God to smarten my brain, followed by a banana with peanut butter and another cup of coffee.  Then nose to the grindstone.  And hand to the plough.  No turning back.

“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

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