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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kinyarwanda word of the year: akabenzi

I’ve been in Nyanza for much of the last couple of weeks, first helping prepare Kinyarwanda materials for the group of trainees arriving in October and then at a 2-day in-service language training with half of my group. It’s been a fun time hanging out with my favorite Kinyarwanda teachers and other PCVs. I’ve really gotten my nerd on while writing a Kinyarwanda grammar book.

In this time, I’ve learned quite a bit of Kinyarwanda vocabulary and grammar. The single new word I treasure most is akabenzi.

Felicien, the language coordinator for PC Rwanda, is a jovial man in his mid-20s whom I’ve been calling marume (“uncle”) since the second week of training. Among his many wonderful qualities, he’s smart, funny, a gregarious dancer, and has the absolute greatest beer belly known to man.

The beer belly, you see, is a status symbol for men: it shows that a man has the money to eat and drink well and the leisure not to work it off.

In Kinyarwanda, noun class 12 is the diminutive class. Roots of other nouns can be combined with its prefix, aka- to convey an idea of little, e.g. indobo (bucket) becomes akadobo (little bucket), etc.

Akabenzi literally means “little Benz,” as in Mercedes Benz. It's the little status symbol a man carries around with him: akabenzi, the beer belly.

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