Episode 5: Nasal vs. Oral

Today’s show is brought to you by the letter y.

Today we’re talking about how the alphabet is different in Guaraní and what that means for your sanity.

Let’s dive right in and start with that letter y? What is that? That’s the letter y, who unfortunately fell on his head in Paraguay and now is not quite right.

And, congratulations, because you just learned the word for water. Yes, water is now y. Mmm, hmm, nothing like some ice cold y. Oh, and by the way, ha’u, that word we learned for “I eat” is a word you can also use to mean “I drink”. “I drink water” is Che ha’u y.

Now what about those other letters? Like a cheap soap opera in its 10th season, it turns out there’s an evil twin! Who has an evil twin? All the vowels, and even some constanants. And what must all evil twins have? A mustache! So, any time you see vowel with a mustache, or what some people might call a tilde, that means it’s going to make the whole word nasal. These are those words that sound like you’re holding your nose when you say them. For example, porã, that word that means good or pretty, has the nasal evil twin of the “a” at the end.

What other letters make a word nasal? The rule is that anything with n, m, or a evil twin letter is nasal. Sometimes even consonants have evil twins with mustaches. Accents do not count on this one. Words that are not nasal are called orals.

Why is being nasal so evil? Because like any good plot twist, it makes things more complicated. For example. Remember how the ñande form has two beginnings and I said we’d talk about the second one later? The first one is the ja-, right?. Well, the second you use when the verb is a dirty nasal. And that beginning is going to be ña-. (PAUSE) That’s an “n” with a tilde, just like the beginning for ñande, so the beginning is also a nasal. You’ll notice the nasalies like to hang with their own kind.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you have the verb: japo, to do or make. No n or m or evil twin in sight, which means this word is oral. So to say, “We make”, we’re going to use that regular ja- beginning and say: Ñande jajapo. Now let’s take another, new verb, ñe’ẽ, which means “to speak”. This one’s got double evil twins, on the beginning n and the last e. “I speak” is going to be Che añe’ẽ. If you wanted to say, “We speak,” you can’t just use the ja-. The ja- refuses to be in the same word with the nasal evil twins. The nasal evil twins poisoned his half-brother in season 4. So when a word has a m, n, or a nasal evin twin, you have to use the ja-’s own evil twin, ña-. So then, if the verb “to speak” is ñe’ẽ, then what is “we speak”? Ñande ñañe’ẽ.

The ñande form is the only verb beginning that changes with nasal vowels. But some other random stuff changes as well.

Remember that ending we learned -pe, which means “in, to or at”? Well, -pe changes as well with nasals. -Pe becomes -me. You can see that the ending changes to have the “m” in it, one of the indicators of the dirty nasals. Remember they like to hang with their own kind.

As a desperate attempt to make sense of all this, let’s use the example, “We speak in Guaraní.” “We speak” is that Ñande ñañe’ẽ. And to say “in Guaraní”, you’re going to use that ending that means “in or at.” It’s a little different translation, as before we were talking like in a building, whereas now it’s in a language. We speak in Guaraní. So which would you use, the -pe or the -me? Remember that the rule is that if a word contains a m, n or evil twin mustache, it’s nasal. So, since Guaraní has an “n” in it, we would use the -me. So how would you say “We speak in Guaraní?” Ñande ñañe’ẽ Guaraníme.

And now you get what Guaraníme means. “In Guaraní.” It also had this english, beer me kind of sock it to me in Guaraní sound that I liked. Anyway.

If I can just pop in a little side note tip here. When you use the word ñe’ẽ, you’re also going to use that word ending caboose -pe, when mention who you’re talking to. You’ll put that on the end of someone’s name when you want to say you’re talking to them. I will speak to Carlito is going to be, “Che añe’ẽta Carlitope.” It’s kind of another translation of “to”, as in “to someone.” Ok, end of side note.

How about some more nasal verbie verbs. A good one that hopefully you’ll use is mba’apo. There’s that sneaky m-b beginning. This word means “to work.” So “I work” is Che amba’apo. One of the things you’ll hear among people just passing in the street, when the other asks what they’re doing, is they’ll say, “Amba’apo hína.” I’m workin’ hard hard for the money, basically. Being hardworking is highly valued in Paraguay, so don’t be afraid to brag about it. So what would be, “We all work.” Ñande ñamba’apo.

The next word translates to this all-purpose spanish word “salir.Salir is one of those words with a definition three inches long. It can mean to go out, to leave, to appear, to cost, to date someone or to turn out, as in “How’d your pizza turn out?” The word in Guaraní is sẽ. “I go out” is Che asẽ. “I’m going to go out” is Che asẽta. “I’m going to go out too” is Che asẽta avei. What would be “Just us are going to go out”? Ore rosẽta.

One more nasal verb, which means to clean, is mopotĩ. "I’m going to clean" would be Che amopotĩta. How about “You all cleaned already”? Peẽ pemopotĩma.


Of what we’ve already studied, only one other word changes with the nasal. However, caution: almost no one uses this. I’m almost reluctant to mention it. It’s kind of like the use of “whom” in English. People who know how to use it, do, and people who don’t know how to use it don’t, and roll their eyes at the people who do. So, store this in whatever compartment of your brain you want, or don’t. But just to let you know, that technically, -kuéra plural ending changes to -nguera when the noun is nasal. I’m not going to use this on the podcast because my goal is to teach people to speak like Paraguayans, not like ruler-weilding Guaraní professors. And we’re not going to really count it as a vocab word.

But while we’re on the topic, what are some nasal nouns? A very important one is mba’e. There’s a sneaky little m on the front of that word, in the letter combination m-b that you’ll hear a lot. Mba’e is a very key word. It’s the basis of mba’echapa. By itself it means “what.” It also means “thing” or “situation”. In my little dictionary there’s a whole column of words that begin with mba’e. So, if you want to say “things”, plural, you would technically say, “Mba’e nguera,” and people would stare at you like how my friend stared at me when I tried to pull that one out. He shook his head and said “Mba’e kuéra, boba,” which means, “Just say Mba’e kuéra, you idiot.” Again, shame will be your best teacher.

Another nasal noun is akã, which means “head”. Let’s try an example with this. Let’s say for example that someone asks if you need to write a phone number down, but you have it memorized. How would you say, “It’s already in my head”? I’ll remind you that “it is already” is going to be that “oĩma” that we went over in episode 4. Oĩma che akãme.

To round out our 10 vocab words, let’s throw out mandi’o, which is like the dinner roll of Paraguay. It’s a root vegetable, “yuca” in English, that they eat with everything. Gotta have the mandi’o. It’s got that “m”, so it’s nasal.

At first, it will be difficult in conversation to pick out what is nasal and what’s oral and know what to use. But over time, you’ll pick up on it and know which is which. When you get to that point, call me and tell me what it’s like.

y: water
ña-: nasal v.b. for we
ñe’ẽ: to speak
-me: nasal ending for in, to, at
mba’apo: to work
sẽ: to go out, leave, turn out
mopotĩ: to clean
mba’e: what, thing, or situation
akã: head
mandi’o: mandioca

***BIG FAT JERK-FACE ALERT!*** I am a big fat jerk-face because I put a word in the review that I was going to put in this episode but cut, and hence never explained. That word is guereko. It's a verb that means "to have." I will be caned for my carelessness in episode 6.

Continue on if you can ever learn to trust again...

1. You have water.
Nde reguereko y.

2. I will speak to Pedro.
Che añe’ẽta Pedrope.

3. You’re all going to go out.
Peẽ pesẽta.

4. I have it in my head.
Che aguereko che akãme.

5. I will eat mandioca.
Ha’uta mandi’o.

Now Guaraní first.

6. Opa che y.
My water’s all gone.

7. Ha upéi?
And then?

8. Che ha’e mba’e kuéra Guaraníme.
I say things in Guaraní.

9. Oĩma che mandi’o.
My mandioca’s ready.

10. Opa che ra’a.
All done man.

Ok, that’s it. If you’re studying with flashcards, I would suggest that you somehow mark on one side or the other if something is nasal or oral, or if it’s used with nasals or orals. It will help you learn. Hope you appreciated today's lesson and all the "That's what she said" jokes I repressed to preserve your innocence.

1 comment:

  1. I'm loving this blog. I'm really interested in this beautiful language!