Every day I am learning more of Sanni’s Yoruba language. I like the tones, how easy the language is to pronounce and the feeling it gives to be able to use his mother tongue with him and our friends; their pride in me is evident too, it obviously means a lot that I’m willing to try.
As a visual learner, I need to see and read something in order to remember it. Sanni could say the same phrase over & over again but you can guarantee five minutes later I’ll have forgotten it, so herein lies the challenge for me to remember it all and the task of compiling it, especially given that written Yoruba seems undeniably difficult because of dialectal differences. For example, when I received some Yoruba from KUKU, a Nigerian musician I interviewed, I read it to Sanni who told me he could only make out some of the words because, “he must be using country-Yoruba not city-Yoruba.” Ahhh whhaaattt??? How many Yoruba dialects are there??? Well, not specifically Yoruba but in Nigeria alone there are 552 different languages.
Not stumped I thought I would take the phrase to ask a good friend, Moses. The only thing is the private conversation I thought we were having turned out to be a hilarious, all-out language war among many friends because Sanni didn’t know his own language well enough to translate it fully and everyone got in on the language game of what-words-do-you-not-know. Now, to Sanni’s credit it should be known that only one person of the ten present, knew how to spell Yoruba correctly and ironically, I still don’t know what the phrase means because he couldn’t tell me either!
The only way I know to conquer this is to build my own repository of Yoruba with my own phonetic alphabet; I will continually update this page as my vocabulary grows and where possible I will give the correct Yoruba but this should never be counted as fact.
Anyone is welcome to leave comments to make corrections, or, better still, you can help update the Nigerian language dictionary.
Iyawomi (my wife) or Okomi (my husband)
Oremi (my friend)
Omo (baby) or Omomi (my baby)
Mu mu (to call someone dense/ thick- perfect for Cambodian tuktuk drivers when they cut you off! It is better translated to ‘coward’ but is often used as an insult, except when jesting is obvious.)
oDey (idiot – often used in response to mu mu)
Omo aja mi (my puppy. My nickname for Sanni)
Bawoni (how are you?)
Ki lo fe? (what do you want?)
Ki lo fe shey? (what do you want to do?)
Bawoni owan ebi e now? (How is your family now?)
Shey da da ni? (Is everything alright?)
Ni bo lo wa? (Where are you?)
Fumi ni omi (get me water)
Wa or Ma bo (come)
Ma lo (go)
Ohshay (thank you)
Ka bo (welcome – as in “you are welcome to my home,” not, “you’re welcome” after receiving thanks)
Mo a-pah (I’m fine)
Da da ni (I’m good)
Ah Doop eh (I’m alright)
Mom bo (I’m coming now)
Mo tim bo (I’m coming/on my way)
Mon lo ile (I’m going home)
Won wa dada (They are good/ok)
Owa ni ile (He’s at home)
Sanni: Ma sha e-la shey (I wound you); and, my reply: Ma sha mi la shey (don’t wound me)
These were the first words Sanni ever taught me, it came about when we first began dating because of how much we play-fight and our cheeky and sarcastic way of communicating.
Danku Arawa (short man among us)
One day I was at the soccer stadium watching Sanni and the boys play when our friend Scooter arrived and joined me. We were discussing Yoruba and how I was gradually learning when Scooter suggested I should call Sanni over by calling danku arawa, in reference to Sanni’s small stature. With the number of people around I was quite shy to call it out, especially as I had only practised saying the phrase a few times before the opportunity arose, however the raucous laughter that ensued proved I had nothing to worry about because everyone appreciated the jest, including Sanni, whose sense of humour never falters.
Oyan mi je (you annoy me)
This came about when we were at Good Luck’s birthday dinner when Shola was enjoying teaching me Yoruba. I asked her to teach me how to reply to Sanni when he was doing something that annoyed me. The first time I used this on Sanni was about half an hour later when he was trying to initiate play fighting. Worked a charm!
Mo tee say soong/ Mo fay soong (I want to go to sleep) is replied with Oda row (see you in the morning/ good night)
I used to get insomnia a lot and to help me rest Sanni would tell me a story. One that invariably would have me asleep in no time, not that they weren’t interesting it’s just the lulling sound of his voice that did it. And now that Sanni & I are so far away from each other there are nights where I can’t get to sleep without him but he has no way of watching me go to sleep so to save us money on our calls he taught me to say this phrase so he knew to end soon and hang up.