Rama language

Rama language

Infobox Language
region=Rama Cay
speakers=approx. 36
fam2=Northern group
fam3=Votic Subgroup
lc1=rma|ld1=Rama |ll1=Rama language

Rama is one of the indigenous languages of the Chibchan family spoken by the Rama people on the island of Rama Cay and south of lake Bluefields on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Other indigenous languages of this region include Miskito and Sumu Harvcol|Craig|1992. Rama is one of the northernmost languages of the Chibchan family Harvcol|Craig|1990|p=293.

The Rama language is severely endangered. Their language was described as "dying quickly for lack of use" as early as the 1860s Harvcol|Pim|Seemann|1869|p=280. By 1980, the Rama were noted as having "all but lost their original ethnic language", and had become speakers of a form of English creole instead Harvcol|Craig|1990|p=293. Language revival efforts began in 1980-1981 under the Sandinistas; though literacy campaigns were launched for neighbouring languages such as Miskito and Sumu, the same was not practical for Rama due to the small number of speakers. Harvcol|Craig|1990|p=293. The fieldwork for the first dictionary of Rama was done during this time by Robin Schneider, a graduate student from the University of Berlin Harvcol|Rigby|Schneider|1989. In 1992, only approximately 36 fluent speakers could be found among an ethnic population of 649 individuals in 1992, of whom only a few scattered individuals live outside Nicaragua Harvcol|Craig|1992. The number of speakers on Rama Cay island was only 4 in 1992, due to language shift to English that engendered Rama Cay Creole Harvcol|Craig|1992.


There are three basic vowel sounds: "a, i" and "u". In addition to these, "e" and "o" have been introduced as distinct vowels in some foreign loanwords. Each vowel may be either short or long. Here the vowels are shown in standard Rama orthography (see for example Harvcolnb|Craig|Rigby|Assadi|Tibbitts|1988):

The independent pronouns are often used as subjects: "Nah tawan ki aakar" "I live in Bluefields" (I town in stay), "Maa kalma apaakut?" "Can you sew a dress?" (you dress sew-IRREALIS), "Yaing taaki" "He/She is going". They may also be complements of postpositions: "Naing airung ning nguu ki aakar nah u" "My mother lives in this house with me" (my mother this house in stay I with), "maa kang" "from you", "Walsa anut su tabiu" "The tiger came out at them" (tiger they at came-out). Note that "-ut" changes to "-ul" before a vowel, for example in "nsul u" "with us".

The prefix forms of the pronouns are used as subject prefixes with verbs: "Neli aa nitangu" "I gave it to Nelly" (Nelly OBJECT I-gave), "Tamaik suulikaas niaukut" "Tomorrow I will cook some meat" (tomorrow meat I-will-cook), "Taa u mtaaku?" "With whom did you go?" (who with you-went), "Itaaku" "he/she went", "Ipang su ansiiku" "They came to the island" (island in they-came). In the second person plural, "m-" is prefixed and "-lut" suffixed to the verb.

Subject prefixes are omitted when the subject is represented by an independent pronoun: "I am going" is either "Nah taaki" or "Ntaaki", "He is going" is either "Yaing taaki" or "Itaaki", etc. They are also commonly absent in the presence of a full subject noun phrase: "Naing taata taaki" "My father is going", but "repetition" of the subject is also possible: "Pkaak tkii su itraali" "The lizard (he) walks on the ground" (lizard ground on it-walks).

A pronominal object is expressed by adding the postposition "aa" to the pronouns, which adopt the prefix form in the singular but the full form in the plural: "naa, maa, yaa" but "nsula" (for "nsut + -a") etc. But third person objects are commonly zero-marked, that is, the absence of an overt object of a transitive verb implies an understood "him", "her" or "it", e.g. "Anangsku" "They cleaned it" (lit. they-cleaned).

The demonstrative pronouns are the same as the corresponding determiners: "ning" "this", "naming" "that", as in "Ning naing nguu" "This is my house".

The interrogative pronouns are "niku" "what", "taa" "who", as in "Niku maing aak?" "What is your name?", "Taa rama kuup alkwsi?" "Who speaks Rama?" (who Rama language speaks), "Taa u mtaaku?" "With whom did you go?" (who with you-went).


Rama postpositions perform roughly the same functions as English prepositions, as in "tkii su" "on the ground", "tawan ki" "in (the) town", "nah u" "with me", "nguu aing" "of the house", etc.

Postpositional phrases may occur either before or after the verb. Some postpositions have a shorter and a longer form; following the verb the long forms are used, e.g. "Nangalbiu naing taata kang" "I ran away from my father" (I-ran my father from) but before the verb the short forms are more usual: "Naing taata ka nangalbiu" (my father from I-ran).

Question words may be preceded by another sentence constituent as topic, e.g. "Tiiskama taa yutaaku?" "Who took the child?" (child who took), "Maa, ngarangki aakar?" "And you, where do you live?" (you, where live).

However, question words generally stand at the beginning of the sentence: "Ngarangki maa aakar?" "Where do you live?" (where you live), "Ngarangki ngulkang aakar?" "Where does the wari live?" (where wari lives), "Ngarangki Nora aing nguu aakar?" "Where is Nora's house?" (where Nora GENITIVE house stay), "Ngarangsu yaing taaki?" "Where is he/she going?" (where he/she goes), "Ngarangsu yaing taata taaki?" "Where is his/her father going?" (where his/her father goes), "Taa nsulaing rama kuup alkwsi?" "Who speaks our Rama language?" (who our Rama language speaks), "Taa u mtaaku?" "With whom did you go?" (who with you-went).

Questions words with a non-verbal predicate: "Niku maing aak?" "What is your name?", "Niika bii maing kaulingdut?" "How is your family?"


Sentences may be negated by placing "taama" after the verb or predicate, e.g. "Nah ipang su aakar taama" "I do not live on Rama Cay", "Maa rama kuup alkwsi taama" "You do not speak Rama", "Naing nguu taara taama" "My house is not big", "Naming tausung naing taama" "That dog is not mine", or by placing "aa" before the verb, e.g. "Paalpa aa baanalpiu" "They didn't look for the manatee", "Naas aa taak ikar" "I don't want to go".

There is a special negative word, "angka", to express impossibility, e.g. "Nah angka aakar tawan ki" "I cannot live in Bluefields".

Coordination and subordination

Coordinating conjunctions: "an" "and", "barka" "but": "Naing nising an naing tairung ning nguu ki aakar nah u" "My sister and my brother live in this house with me", "Nah tausung saiming kuaakar an maa puus puksak kuaakar" "I have one dog and you have two cats", "Naing nguu taara taama, barka aakwaala" "My house is not big, but it is pretty".

Subordinate clauses may be formed by means of subordinator suffixes as described above. Reported speech is formed by juxtaposition as in "Anaapiu anaungi" "They found it, they say" ("aapi" "find", "aung" "say"). Relative clauses also have no specific subordinator but the clause marker "kaing" may be employed, e.g. "Suulikaas nipaayau kaing Neli aa nitangu" "The meat I bought, I gave it to Nelly" (meat I-bought "kaing" Nelly OBJECT I-gave).


Rama has borrowed words from Miskito (e.g. "taara" "big"), English, Rama Cay Creole and Spanish. [Words possibly borrowed from Miskito include some that Miskito ultimately borrowed from English, e.g. "tawan" "town". There are probably also numerous Miskito calques in Rama, such as "preya aing nguu" "church", cf. Miskito "prias watla".] Besides such loans, Rama has a primary lexicon of Chibchan origin, expanded through various word-formation processes, to which we now turn.

Many verb stems are made up of extensions from primary roots by the addition of one of the prefixes "al-" and "aa-", which often correlate with intransitive and transitive meanings respectively. Evident intransitive derivation with "al-" is illustrated by the pairs "maling" "kill" : "almaling" "die", "aark : alaark" "break (tr./intr.)" and "auk : alauk" "roast (tr./intr.)", while other cases of outward resemblance are semantically opaque, e.g. "kwis" "eat" and "alkwis" "speak", or involve more complex relationships, e.g. "aap" (i.e. "aa- + p") "find" and "baalp" ("ba-" [preverb] + "al + p" "seek".

Verbs may be derived from other parts of speech by suffixing one of several verbal roots glossed as "do, make", such as "-king, -ting" and "-uung".

A common adjective-forming suffix is "-ba", while the participial suffix "-ima" gives rise to both adjectives and nouns.

Certain recurrent endings found in numerous noun stems appear to correspond to vague semantic classes. A notable example is "-up", which occurs as the last component in nouns many of which denote round objects, fruits or body parts. As an inalienable noun in its own right, "-up" means "eye" or "seed".

Composition is another common way of forming nouns, as in "suulikaas" "meat" (from "suuli" "animal" + "kaas" "flesh") or the inalienable noun "-upulis" "eyelash" (from "-up" "eye" + "ulis" "hair").

New concepts can also be expressed syntactically, e.g. through genitive constructions such as "preya aing nguu" "church" (lit. house of prayer), or through verbal paraphrase.

Partial or complete reduplication is seen in the forms of some words, including onomatopeics such as "tahtah" "dripping", animal names like "ngaukngauk" "spider" or "tkwustkwus" "rabbit", colour names and other descriptive adjectives such as "nuknuknga" "yellow", "ngarngaringba" "green", "siksiknga" "speckled", "kingkingma" "calm", and others, e.g. "tiskitiski" "a little".




External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=rma Information about the Rama at Ethnologue]
* [http://maget.maget.free.fr/Rama/Index6.html Rama Language Project home page]

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