Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Yoruba is a tonal language, which means that pretty much everything I say is unintelligible to anyone other than myself.  Normally, this doesn’t matter – the people I’m trying to communicate with just smile, tell me I’m trying and wonder what the heck my gobbley-gook meant. 

Today, for example, I informed the archive ladies that I will be going to Lagos to pick up my husband on Friday.  This sentence sounded perfectly clear and understandable in my own head.  The ladies, however, smiled kindly, asked (in English) what I was trying to say and then corrected my sentence . . . repeating back to me the exact words I had just said.  Except with actual Yoruba tones instead of my (apparently) free-form version.

Good luck trying to understand me, people of Ibadan!

At other times my cavalier treatment of Yoruba tones has more serious consequences - like when people ask if I eat Nigerian food.  I typically list the various Nigerian meals I’ve enjoyed and then end with something along the lines of “But I like pounded yam [iyan] the best.”  Well, it turns out that I’ve been pronouncing ‘iyan’ with a high tone at the end, instead of the low tone it’s supposed to have – and therefore telling people that “I like famine the best.”  That’s right.  All over Ibadan, I’ve left a trail of people wondering why I like Nigerian food just fine, but I enjoy famine the most.  (Also, when I tell people that I have a husband, I might also be telling them that I have a car, a farm or a penis.  I’m never quite sure.)

Yams, not famine.



  1. And that is why I will stay away from tonal languages for the rest of my life. I wouldn't want people thinking I have a farm.

  2. I'm a post behind, but my Dutch relatives bake all the time (they're also ancient, so maybe it's generational). I keep going to the "Typical Dutch Stuff" blog for recipes - the pictures of finished baked goods look wonderful - but not one single recipe actually works!

  3. Steve, I do think that it is a generational thing, and I've also had to get used to the different baked goods. Are there any particular recipes you're looking for? I can always ask around for a good recipe from a fellow baker.
    Thanks for reading our blog!

  4. Diana, the one Dutch recipe I've had the least success with was Taai-taai, the hard Christmas cookies. I'm a pastry chef and chocolatier (ssh. that's a well-guarded secret in the blogging world), so finding recipes usually isn't a problem.

    Currently, I'm obsessed with no-knead breadmaking using a Dutch oven (and I have no idea what the Dutch call those). Wonderful crust, if you can stand the wait.

  5. Steve,
    Oh, I am not a fan of the taai-taai. I tried it once at a party and had to spit it out. Too much anise for me. Maybe it was just a bad cookie? I'm not sure, but I'm in no rush to try it again.

    I was just reading about that breadmaking process over at apartment therapy. People love it.

    Dutch ovens are simply called a roasting pot (braadpan) here. My father-in-law thinks its hilarious that his French, cast-iron pot has a Dutch association in America.