Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Yielding Swahili

Enough of me for a while. Here's what Barack Obama, my hitherto silent partner in this blog, has said about his name:
My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or "blessed," believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.

Leaving aside the substance of his remark (as I always do), that "would" in the second sentence bugs me. But the man is a gifted orator and it's his own history, after all, so who am I to question his grammar? Just a pedant without portfolio, god help us every one. If you can identify the verb tense he's using, please do so in a comment.

'Barack' Is African

OK, so it's an African name after all! I've been telling people I thought it was African, what with Kenya and all, but I ignored the possibility in an earlier post, so this information fills in the blanks. (How could I have been so lazy for four years? Uh ... can I get back to you on that?)

Let us now confirm this information with a visit to the Kamusi Project, aka The Internet Living Swahili Dictionary. There we would learn how an Arabic name became a Swahili moniker:
"Barack" is a non-standard alternate spelling of "Baraka." If you are looking for the answer to the question of the origin of the name Barack Obama, it is a Swahili name that entered the language via historical trade and cultural ties with Arabia."

It entered Swahili tenderly yet irresistibly, like a linguistically engorged merchant. There, bivouacking beneath the palms between cross-Sahara date deliveries, Barack drove his tongue deep into the yielding Swahili.

1 comment:

FlyingSchwa said...

I'm no grammar expert, but i think the use of "would" is some kind of past future tense, in that the tense is simply future, but the "now" perspective he is speaking of when he made the comment was before he was born.