18 Feb 2014

J Speaks Marathi

The Marathi Grammar Conundrum

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
Charlemagne

One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.
Frank Smith


Being a bilingual child has its pros and cons. The biggest pro is getting to use two languages instead of just the one. And the biggest, albeit temporary con is trying to come to grips with two separate sets of grammar rules at a very young age.

Using correct grammar can be daunting at the best of times. Who better than I to bear witness to that fact. Imagine then, if you are trying to comprehend, speak, build a vocabulary and learn the rules of grammar of two entirely unrelated languages simultaneously! The results can range from the outrageous to the hilarious, as I am finding out every day, much to my amusement.

J's greatest challenge to date has been the use of grammatical gender in our native Marathi, a concept that no longer exists in modern English. 

Very briefly, grammatical gender is a system of classifying nouns in a language. In the classical languages like Latin and Sanskrit, and in Marathi, there are three types of grammatical gender, masculine, feminine and neuter. This has nothing to do with sex as we know it. It is purely all about grammar. Everything under the sun, even objects like chairs, tables and trees get assigned a grammatical gender. 

The fun begins when the verb starts following the noun or subject and needs to be conjugated to reflect the gender of that noun (or subject). So a sentence in English remains unchanged irrespective of who or what the subject is. The verb does not change with the subject. 
eg: He eats an apple.
She eats an apple. 

In our native Marathi, the verb is conjugated to reflect the gender of the noun.  The verb changes form based on whether the subject is masculine, feminine or neuter. 

So when Mum uses a verb, she uses it differently to when Dad uses the same verb. No wonder my poor J is so confused. He is a boy, and has to conjugate his verbs in the masculine. But all he hears is Mum speak all day long (Dad hardly gets a word in edgeways). And Mum uses all the feminine forms of the verbs. 

So a befuddled J, in all his innocence, does a pick-and-mix with his masculine subjects and feminine verbs, and feminine subjects and masculine verbs. All with a very straight face, much to the delight of The Parents. 

A prime example: "Baba kamavar geli," The correct form should be, "Baba kamavar gela." (Dad went to work in both cases. But note the change in the verb, went - geli is the feminine form which I would use, gela is the masculine form which M would use)
                                  
My little J is inadvertently spreading great joy in the Marathi-speaking world with his brave foray into Marathi grammar. I can't quite translate the nuances of these linguistic gems into English. But I do hope I have managed to convey the magnitude of the effort that J is putting into developing his grammatical skills.

Wot So Funee?

41 comments:

  1. I wish I knew more than one language.

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  2. Thats so sweet and bet its really funny when he says it too. In Little Zs world everyone is a good boy or naughty boy no matter who they are :)

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    1. Talk about gender equality :-D I like this absolute black and white distinction. It only happens when you are little and there are no shades of grey to distract.

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  3. lol
    वाचून फ़ार मजा वाटला :-)

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    1. Hmm, 'maja' is a bit ambiguous though, wouldn't you say? Some use it as masculine, we use it as feminine. Or was the point anyway :-D x

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    2. Yes, I was trying to imitate J by using 'vaatla' instead of 'vaatli'!

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  4. I find this very funny only because I am trying to teach my son spanish and english and I am american and my husband is english so together we are teaching him two sets of english rules and two sets of spanish mexican and spain. The poor kid is ever so confused just like yours. Best way to describe the above, as we have the same problem is your tot is calling Daddy a lady in around about way. lol hahaha

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    1. Spot on, Jenny :-D It is really amusing, isn't it, when they use language so? I can only imagine your little boy trying to tackle four in one go. They cope brilliantly though.

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  5. lol
    वाचून फ़ार मजा वाटला :-)

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    1. That's the whole point :-) I think M needs to start talking more to balance things out!

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  6. Wow, kinda of scaring me! My kids are learning French and Spanish at the same time which is not ideal but the school insists, so far we are concentrating on communication and not grammar which I know its important, hopefully with time it will come.

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    1. I am sure it will. It is great that your kids are learning two languages simultaneously. I think their ability to grasp is much better when they are little.

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  7. I am sure he will get there, I would imagine that lots of little Marathi speakers have the same issue if they are home with Mum! It all sounds very complicated!

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    1. A bit like Spanish or German where the verb keeps changing. You are right, they get the hang of it in the end :)

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  8. I am constantly amazed by children's ability to pick up a second language so easily. Great to start when they are young :)

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  9. My only experience of gender in language is learning French at school. Despite being a straight A student, I got a C in French as I just don't have a flare for languages at all for some reason. I love it when children can speak more than one though x

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    1. I am trying to learn Spanish at the moment, and struggling. I think they do pick it up better when they are little x

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  10. Wow - I would love my child to have a second language. It's a fabulous skill x #funee

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  11. I'm struggling to get my eldest to speak our home language. She is 7 and understands most of it but wont speak it!

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    1. Oh, that's what they do when they are a bit older apparently. They understand and can speak, but just don't want to!

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  12. I'm struggling to get my eldest to speak her home language. She is 7 and understands most of it but refuses to speak it!

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  13. I can speak a little French but i couldn't pass a French person

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  14. Aww that is adorable! Our 5 year old just doesn't grasp the whole masculine / feminine thing in Arabic and makes us laugh with it. He hears my husband say certain things and just copies him regardless of gender... I expect it is something that will come with time. Very sweet though!

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  15. I find this so, so fascinating and I also find it incredible that children are able to acquire two languages at once. Looking forward to hearing more as J progresses. x

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  16. It was the masculine/feminine that used to throw me off when learning French and Spanish in school - I was so rubbish at learning languages, but so wish I had stuck it out - I always wish I could speak my father-tongue, Greek, but as it was only him that could speak it, we didn't hear it so much at home, so I never truly picked it up, just a few words here and there.

    I'm sure as your son grows up, he'll have it down as second nature!

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  17. I always remmeber being at school and always getting in trouble for the incorrect use of male and female spellings. I tihnk its a wonderful gift to be bilingual

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  18. I'm sure he will get there. I wish I knew more than one language x
    http://www.youbabymemummy.com

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  19. It's amazing how they have the capacity to learn so much at once though isn't it?

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  20. I've always wished that I was fluent in more than one language and started F on French when he was six months old but have fell out of practice. This has inspired me to pick up where I left off and help him have the possibilities that come with speaking something other than English x

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  21. Such an interesting post! Glad to see some in depth linguistics in a wot so funee contribution. I speak French and German (not natively, but to degree level) and I'm trying to speak as much as possible to my boys in these, if nothing else so that they get the concept of there being more than one language out there. We've had a few funee moments with confusion :) I'm sure J will progress well, at this age they can cope so well with hard wiring 2 languages into their brains.

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  22. Such an interesting post! Glad to see some in depth linguistics in a wot so funee contribution. I speak French and German (not natively, but to degree level) and I'm trying to speak as much as possible to my boys in these, if nothing else so that they get the concept of there being more than one language out there. We've had a few funee moments with confusion :) I'm sure J will progress well, at this age they can cope so well with hard wiring 2 languages into their brains.

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  23. Bless him, that is amazing. I am a French teacher and I have taught some to my children but not bilingually. I support that he will get a more grammatical grip when he gets older and the important thing is that he is learning the building blocks. You are giving m an amazing skill though

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  24. This sounds absolutely fascinating - and I think learning two such different languages, which are set up in such different ways, must help him so much in the future. What a really interesting blog post to read - thank you

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  25. His poor little brain having to cope with all these things!

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  26. Oh my, I think I would be confused too. I am sure he will get to grips with it eventually

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  27. I studied French and German at school but for the life of me I can't remember any of it

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  28. This sounds really interesting. Marathi sounds like a fascinating language - and I'm sure your little one will get to grips with it soon. It must be wonderful to hear him dabbling in the different languages, and trying to understand all the grammatical niceties.

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  29. Aww it sounds just adorable! fabulous that he is learning two languages :)

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  30. This is so interesting, after reading this I think I've got a vague understanding of grammatical gender but I find it fascinating how someone so young can master two languages so well. Really remarkable job you're doing there missus :)

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  31. Oh goodness that is confusing! I thought you were describing the French conjugation method that is attached to the person described! Poor boy.

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