Thursday, November 16, 2006

Overtaken by Grammar

Let's all pause in our pursuit of absolute foreign-culture hilarity for a moment here to remember that, yes, I was a linguistics major in college, and yes, I plan on pursuing that field further, and yes, I am a complete and utter nerd, and not just because I have programmed my cell phone to play "The Spirit of God" every time someone calls me.

With that in mind, you may continue reading. One of my favorite aspects of Indonesian grammar--and may I just take this opportunity to insist that it does have grammar, contrary to the beliefs of its native speakers--is the circumfix ke-...-an. For the most part, it's a rather innocuous little nominalizing affix, taking an adjective to an abstract noun: friendly to friendliness, beautiful to beauty, happy to happiness. For a certain small class of roots--and it is to the everlasting detriment of the language that this is not a productive function--this circumfix creates a word that roughly means "overtaken by X" or "caught by/in X." Hence, ketinggalan, "left behind," or "overtaken by staying"; kesiangan, "overslept," or "overtaken by late morning/early afternoon"; and, a word that has become increasingly important over the last week or so as Semarang enters the rainy season, kehujanan, or "caught in the rain."

I have been kehujanan several times already, none of them pleasant. The rain comes on quickly here, and, trust me, it never rains but it pours. One minute the sky looks normal, and the next minute the streets are flooded up to the ankles in water. (Semarang apparently has water-drainage issues, making it famous across Indonesia as a city of floods. My school principal, after seeing the worried look on my face as he told me this, reassured me that the floods "almost never" get above the knee.) Since I don't own an umbrella, and since I rely on my own two feet as my primary method of transportation, being kehujanan poses a problem for me; normally, in an American rain, I would dash from shelter to shelter, risking a few drops on my head, shoulders, knees, or toes, but here, the rain comes in buckets, not drops, and the air afterwards is much too humid to dry me off naturally. Hence, I am usually forced to change my plan and stay put--to flip through a magazine, browse a pirated DVD stand, or maybe write a blog entry--and simply wait it out.

Luckily for me, the rain usually stops as suddenly as it starts. Barely 20 minutes ago, it was hard to see out the window for the rain, and now the sun is shining again and I am free to put the finishing touches on inconsequential blog entries and leave the shelter of the internet cafe for home. So there's your free lesson on Indonesian grammar for the day; stay tuned for next week's installment of "Affixes I Have Loved": the suffix -an attached to a reduplicated base. It's a doozy.

1 comment:

steve said...

i read the other day that Sukarno once said that what Indonesia needed was "ke-uptodate-an" or something like that.

Pre-umbrella, I got kehujanan and got stuck standing under a small over-hang with some guys who demanded I drink some "laki-laki" drink. Now I'm ke-virile-an.