Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Franco-Malagasy-English Vazah Dictionary: The Abridged Travel Version

In honour of the festivities to mark Madagascar's Independence day, on this 26th of June 2012, and dedicated to my mother, my greatest fan, who celebrates her birthday this week, I give you an ode to communication in l'Ile Rouge...

Once before I have written for you, dear reader, a wildly successful Spanglish-Kiki Dictionary that is now well into its third printing. Due to the overwhelming popularity of that volume, which was compiled after painstaking minutes of brief and rather shallow digression, and based on further anthropological study abroad, I have come to the conclusion that the world needs more help with translation. Indeed, in no place is this overwhelmingly evident as in Madagascar. I will shamelessly refer you to my earlier treatise on the mistranslations of one Sunny Golf Hotel if you require further proof.

Madagascar presents a unique and acute challenge to the translation editor. There are not one, but two languages in which one may be misunderstood: French and Malagasy. But I am not daunted, oh ho no. If Samuel Johnson can persevere, so can I. While a complete dictionary is a massive undertaking that will be several years in the making, I have taken the liberty of drawing up a preliminary list of some key phrases and terms that would be necessary for any intrepid explorer considering visiting the island of Madagascar. Let us begin with the French-English, shall we:

Commande/Demande: Co-mahnd/deh-mahnd. 1) Polite request. In Madagascar, bureaucracy is a fine art. That is why it is critical that one knows that when they are presented with a commande or demande to formally commander or demander quelque chose, they are not being threatened nor inducted into the gendarmerie. It should not be confused with the menacing English DEMAND.

En fait: Awhn fay. 1) In fact. People only deal with the facts here. There are a lot of facts too. Example: En fait, I went to the grocery store and, en fait, they were out of milk. Both. Facts.

La bas: LahBAH, often spoken with a slight rolling L: lllah bah. 1) Literally, down there. 2) In conversation, there. Right there, no, no, over there. Can’t you see? La bas, there. 3) Alternatively, Here. Just, here. Yes, right here.

Oeufs: uh-(f). Eggs. I include this one as there seems to be a great deal of confusion over its pronunciation. I have heard Malagasies fluent in French stare blankly at a French-speaker who is commandering eggs for breakfast. I have also seen them think long and hard and then laugh and finally proceed to correct the person. En fait, the same incident has actually happened to moi-meme, if you can believe it. Potato/potahto I guess. Nevertheless, it is important to note well the correct Malagasy pronunciation as soon as one arrives in country, as otherwise one will be precluded from clarifying that one does not want eggs on every dish served, including pizzas.

Voila: Emphatically on both syllables, Vawh-lah. 1) There you go. Or 2) There YOU go. It finishes any sentence as the consummate summation of all preceding facts presented within the sentence. 2) Less emphatic summation, similar to the English phrase “so… yeah…”


Alefa: ah-LEY-fa. Go for it. Go ahead. Give’er, g’awhn, gun it son.

Inovowvow: EE-no-vuh-VOW. Whatsap? This always produces a smile on the Malagasy face when sputtered by vazah (see below).

Mora Mora: Mooe-ruh, mooe-ruh. 1) Slowly, slooowwwwly. And how. It is often offered as a comforting reminder or a kind command to observe that whatever you have requested will likely come slowly, slowly. 2) Alternatively, never.

Vazah: Vuh-ZAH: 1) Literally, foreigner. 2) Emotion(s) expressed by laughter and pointing. One day I will write an entire book to expound on this word. For now, let it suffice to say it loosely translated as “expatriate” or “foreigner” but is bandied about rather excessively, if you ask me. For example, it is often shouted by mothers to their children when beckoning them to come out of the house and see the vazahs coming by. Now, ok, sure the first time I was out with my Sunday morning running group jogging along the dykes separating the rice paddies and irrigation ditches around the suburbs of Tana, I can imagine them wanting a gander at the spectacle. And sure, we were all pale women wearing rather bold neon reflective running outfits. And yes, we were all sweltering and wilting, because we were snowflakes (see below) not built for that kind of exertion in the highland heat. But that’s no reason to point and laugh every Sunday thereafter when the experience repeated itself.

Veloma: Vel-OO-ma. 1) Bye! 2) See you later! 3) Happy Trails! 4) Bon Voyage! 5) Write often! 6) We’ll miss you! 7) Safe Travels! 8) Good luck! 9) Godspeed! 10) It is also often used to describe the traditional final party when someone moves away, a veloma party, or just a veloma. 11) Sending someone off in style.

Bonus! English-English

Snowflake: SNO-flehkh. This is particular to the dialect spoken by the east coast male vazah, though its usage is spreading to the wider vazah community. It refers to a female vazah – pretty, delicate, white, melts at high temperatures. I am, apparently, a snowflake.

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