I’ll make this post short and sweet. Malagasy was frustrating, with a capital F.
I probably should have followed my first mind and skipped it. While that seems kind of harsh, I guess I underestimated the amount of resources available for briefly studying the language. I was only able to find one page that had spoken Malagasy as a learning tool. I had to resort to YouTube videos of songs in Malagasy and while those can be helpful, they’re not referential.
Another problem is the lingering influence of French. Some of the Madagascar media sites I tried to visit were written in that language, sometimes almost exclusively (this was for the ones that weren’t down). It just makes me wonder how “official” Malagasy is if French is used so frequently.
There are several other things that could have made searching for spoken Malagasy a challenge. The vestige from a centralized government in the 70s-90s under Didier Ratsiraka that limited free press could have played a role. Also, the current president owns the major TV and radio station, so any alternatives are privately-owned. French is also still used to connect Madagascar to France and other parts of Francophone Africa that trade with the tropical island.
SUMMARY: Malagasy can be traced to the language family of Pacific and Micronesian languages, whose native speakers are descendants of settlers from Borneo. The language stretched all over the large (and by large, I mean the size of Alaska) island and was sprinkled with Bantu and Arab vocabulary after those visitors came in the mid first century. They were followed by Portuguese and French explorers, in which the latter left their imprint on the island and would later rule it in years to come. Welsh missionaries helped create a Romanized Bible, creating the modern form of Malagasy that expanded throughout Merina rule and downfall and eventual independence from the French.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS: Based on what little I could find on spoken Malagasy, my conclusions almost seem incomplete. While there are a ton of sites about written Malagasy, I really wasn’t able to hear the language, except through song. While listening to music, the language sounded like an African-Hawaiian blend. Very rhythmic (yes, I know I watched music videos, give me a break) with a back-and-forth between stressed and unstressed syllables. But overall, really warm sounding and friendly.
Some things that could be troubling for learners:
-Malagasy uses a VOS form
-The last syllables and unstressed syllables in the middle of words are silent
-verb tenses are formed by using prefixes
-Sometimes Malagasy uses diacritics (accent marks). While this isn’t obligatory, they are used from time to time.
A few things that could be helpful:
-no noun inflections
-preposition use is similar to English
-no gender for words
Another thing about Malagasy is the use of personal pronouns that vary depending on formality.
This was one of the beautiful songs that helped me gain some understanding of what Malagasy sounded like:
While I doubt I will return to Malagasy in the future, I guess I can say I know a lot more than I did about this mysterious yet beautiful country. Even if I can’t pronounce the capital … Ananatan … Nananatan … oh, forget it.
COMING UP: Japanese