Do you drink cigarettes?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have seen many examples already of how languages can structure meaning in different ways. The fields of eating and drinking are no exception.

In Many Mande languges, for example, there is no special verb for smoking, one drinks cigarettes, as in Bambara:

N tɛ sigareti min.
‘I don’t smoke (literally: drink) cigarettes.’

Speakers of Baïnounk languages distinguish between eating chewy food and soft food stuffs, a pattern attested in many languages in the region. Consider these two examples:

Maŋkëbi kahar.
‘I’ve eaten (the) meat.’

Mansoosi bumango.
‘I have eaten the/a mango.’

Hold on, some of you might say. I can also say in English that I have chewed the meat and slurped the soup. The difference to a language like Gujaher, from which these examples come, is that it wouldn’t be acceptable at all to use another verb for describing these actions. They are the only and unmarked way for eating meat-type and fruit-type foods.

There is also a verb that looks close to English ‘eat’, and it seems to denote a fairly generic activity of eating. For one, it is used in generic contexts:

Dokulo guyahla!
‘Come eat!’

And its uses comprise the main meals of the day, the eating of bulut ‘circular heated stuff`.

Mayahi bulut.
‘I’ve eaten the meal.’

But the verb bujah is perhaps less general than these examples suggest at first sight. When people are invited to eat a meal, this meal, bulut, is almost always the main staple of a Casamance diet: rice. And to be described by the the verb bujah the event of eating must be at an acceptable stage between bukëb and busoos on the hardness spectrum. If it is undercooked, bukëb is used. So, if you want to talk about food in West Africa, watch what you’re eating!

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