Monday, June 12, 2006

The art of the "eh"

Here’s a tip for anyone who comes to Rwanda and doesn’t know how to respond to a question: just say “eh.” Not a Canadian “eh,” but with a tone of acknowledgment. (It sounds kind of like, “Eh, how YOU doin’?”) If it were a word, it would be the most popular in the Kinyarwanda language.

“Eh” means about 400 different things. It can mean “oh,” or “yes,” or “sure,” or “I heard you,” or "I don't believe you," or "you're joking," among others. So once you’re beyond the “hello” and “how are you?” and someone asks you a follow-up question, and you have no idea what they’re saying, if you just say, “eh,” people often think that you’ve responded (and therefore understood), and they don’t ask further questions.

It’s also helpful when people talk about you, which is obvious because even a Kinyarwanda amateur can hear “muzungu” dropped into a nearby conversation. Looking up and responding, “eh,” often makes people stop in their tracks, because they think you’ve understood them! And then they laugh (in a good way) because everyone believes that muzungus don’t understand any Kinyarwanda!

On that note, I’m going to add more words to the Kinyarwanda dictionary. I recently found a book (more like a pamphlet) in Kigali with some English-Kinyarwanda vocabulary, and will share...

7 Comments:

Blogger Morgan C. said...

As a p.s. to this post...I was in Kampala (Uganda) this morning, and when the bus driver asked me a question in English, I responded "eh" (not on purpose, but it's really contagious--you can't help but start saying it!).

The man then asked, "Oh, you speak Kinyarwanda?"

6/12/2006 3:48 PM  
Anonymous A Ng. said...

Hey there Morgan! are you still in rwanda? I've just read some of your postings on your website and I think that I am liking it. Especially the eh thing. I am a rwandan living in Britain. I've never realised how eh is very important. Sometimes my English friends hear me talking to sister. She says a lot of things and I say eh (she know my answer). My friends don't understand how I can respond with eh often.
Do you how to use "buretse gato"?

7/11/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

No, I confess I don't...but am always willing to learn new phrases!

10/26/2006 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from Canada "eh" seems to be used almost all over English speaking West Africa as well. It is usually used as an agreement. Yes a kind of open "eh"...pronounced something like "eeeehhhh"

8/06/2007 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from Canada "eh" seems to be used almost all over English speaking West Africa as well. It is usually used as an agreement. Yes a kind of open "eh"...pronounced something like "eeeehhhh"

8/06/2007 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am laughing so hard about your stories about"muzungu." I hope one day I will be able to show my husband wh is Umuzungu our lovely country!

6/10/2010 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the other day a ruanda woman asked me if I can make "kunyada" (or similar) with her. I didn´t know what she meant and she laughed but didn´t tell me the meaning.
has anyone an information for me?
willi 1

11/11/2013 3:19 PM  

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