Bambara: how a misconstrued word can make your class go haywire

I love words, play on words, etymology, drawing meanings across languages and generally just twisting them around in one way or another.

Today, I came across this blog and I was not little intrigued by the fact that the word ‘kayak’ made a classroom full of Malian students giggle:

As I discussed the Great Canadian North and its inhabitants, I heard snickers and stifled laughter each time I said the word “kayak.”

Finally one of the girls put up her hand. “Miss, that word sounds just like a word in Bambara. A very, very bad word that a lady would never ever use.”

Kayak is a word I have always liked saying out loud for its simple musicality but also because it is one of those mysterious palindromes. I just had to get to the bottom of this, if only to avoid embarrassment on my next Malian expedition.

My Inspector Maneno jacket had to be unearthed from under a pile of otherwise more mundane clothes and off I was to find the truth about this disturbing ‘kayak’ the Bambara language was harbouring. My first impulse was to interview Mr. Konaté for I knew his knowledge to be great. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found on the world wide web and I had to resort to other means to discover the truth about ‘kayak’. It was not long before I wiped the dust off this very old-fashioned Bambara-French dictionary which held the key to the case at hand. The incriminating word was indeed not ‘kayak’ but ‘kaya‘ whose translation you will be well-advised to read for yourself.

On these good words we part. Tonight, Inspector Maneno can hang her jacket with yet another African word under her belt.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s