The Baskeet translation of ‘thank you’ is ts’oossi immo. The two-word phrase consists of ts’oossi meaning ‘God’ and immo meaning ‘may (he) give’. The second word is a so-called “jussive” verb form, i.e. a special verb form used to encode wishes and commands with a third person subject. In natural pronunciation, the two words seem to merge into one word, which results in [ts’oossimmo] – see record 1 (thank you).
Optionally, the addressee can be added to the beginning of the phrase – see record 2 (thank you). The speaker says neeb ts’oossi immo /to_you God may_he_give/ lit. ‘May God give to you’.
The use of ts’oossi immo
Ts’oossi immo is definitely not used in all the contexts in which English ‘thank you’ would be appropriate or expected. When I started learning Baskeet, people were often confused about my (as they saw it) inflationary use of ts’oossi immo. They considered it very strange when I used it, for instance, when a waiter served me coffee in a café, when a child had run an errand for me or when a shopkeeper returned change to me – which are all contexts in which English ‘thank you’ would be expected.
I realised quickly that native speakers would not use ts’oossi immo in these contexts. Instead, ts’oossi immo is only uttered in situations in which deep gratefulness should be expressed, e.g. for a present, for an invitation, for an unusual favour. Ts’oossi immo is thus rather a blessing than an ordinary ‘thank you’. This also becomes clear when one looks at the Baskeet translation equivalent of the verb ‘thank’, anjide, which has ‘bless’ as its primary meaning.
So here’s a piece of advice: if you are ever sitting in the Sport Məgəb Bet (‘Sport restaurant’), a well-known eatery in Laska, and the waiter serves you lunch, just say isshi ‘ok’ (a loan from Amharic), or nothing at all, and tuck in.
Ts’oossi immo ‘May God give’ is not only a phrase used to express gratefulness but also an appropriate reply when you are approached by a beggar and you reject his/her request for whatever reasons. At first, it seemed very cynical to me to use the equivalent of ‘thank you’ when I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) give change to someone in distress, who was asking me for money. But in this situation, ts’oossi immo is, of course, not an equivalent of ‘thank you’ but a blessing. As an answer to a beggar, it conveys that I wish God to give something to him/her on my behalf.
For visitors to Ethiopia, it takes a while to master the pronunciation of the initial ts’ in ts’oossi ‘God’ (record 3 (ts’oossi)). The consonant ts’ is a so-called ejective affricate. Ejective consonants are consonants that are produced with high pressure. During their production, the air stream from the lungs is interrupted by a closure in the glottis and a closure in the mouth (in the case of ts’ the closure is at the alveolar ridge). Subsequently, the glottis raises, air pressure builts up in the mouth and the closure in the mouth is released with a clearly discernible burst (which can hopefully be heard on record 3 above). Ejectives are marked by an apostrophe in the International Phonetic Alphabet. Ts’ is the ejective counterpart of the affricate ts, which is, for instance, found in German words such as Zoo [tso:]. Baskeet also has an ejective [k’] and [tʃ ’].
Elsewhere in Ethiopia
Baskeet is just one out of many languages in Ethiopia in which (heartfelt) thanks are expressed in the phrase ‘May God give (to you)’ or ‘May God give (to you) on my behalf’. To give another example: in the Cushitic language Kambaata, one says Maganu aassu ‘May God give’.
I’d be happy to collect expressions of gratefulness from other Ethiopian languages in the comments below.
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