Miskitu Aisas!

Miskito Language Course

Lesson 1 Miskitu aisas!
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Contents Speak Miskito!

Welcome to Miskitu Aisas!

Flag of the Miskito Nation

Miskitu Aisas! ("Speak Miskito!"), a language course in Wikibooks, is an elementary introduction to the Miskito language, spoken in parts of Nicaragua and Honduras. The course focuses primarily on presenting the grammar basics through carefully graded and didactically presented lessons. Miskitu Aisas! assumes no prior knowledge of the language and no specialised knowledge of linguistics, although at least a general background in "school grammar" will no doubt be helpful, as will any previous experience at learning foreign languages.

As well as an understanding of the language's overall structure, Miskitu Aisas! will also provide you with a knowledge of some basic vocabulary, and will give you the essential preparation needed to continue studying Miskito by other means, if you should wish to do so. A variety of exercises at every step in the learning path will help you gradually to assimilate both grammar and vocabulary, and to check your progress through comparison of the answers provided. A handy feature that makes this on-line course more interactive is found in the Show/Hide toggle switches that accompany model sentences, exercises and vocabularies. These allow you to customise each page and adapt it to your progress and learning pace by either displaying or concealing translations, answers and meanings.

In the rest of this introduction you can read about who the Miskito people are and what their language is, and how to use this course, as well as quick links to some key pages in the course.

The Miskito people and their language

Location of Central America and the Caribbean
Map of Central America and the Caribbean

The Miskito people inhabit an area along the Caribbean (Atlantic) coast of Central America. This area, known as the Mosquito Coast, is mostly within the state of Nicaragua, with a northern section in a neighbouring region of Honduras. The territory extends from Cape Cameron in the north to Río Grande in the south. In origin the Miskitos were a local indigenous people, but in the post-colonial era a great deal of racial mixing occurred. A major component of the present population is descended from escaped slaves from other areas who sought refuge among the Miskito people.

Because of the inaccessibility of the Miskitos' territory, Spanish settlers did not begin to arrive until 1787 and even after this the Miskitos, who already had an experienced army and an established political structure, continued to dominate the land, which consequently suffered only limited influence from the Spanish conquest. The Miskitos remained independent until 1894 when their land became part of Nicaragua, but the Nicaraguans, like the Spanish before them, exercised little control and many Miskitos, even today, do not consider themselves Nicaraguan.

Former British Protectorate

On the other hand, the Miskito people entered into contact with British colonists as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they continued to be influenced by the British, who had economic interests in the area, particularly in the territory of Belize to the northwest (the colonial name for which was British Honduras). As allies of the British the Miskitos were sucked into the slave trade, often being involved in raids against Spanish settlements in Honduras. Such activities brought the Miskitos into contact with other indigenous groups, to whom the Miskitos tended to consider themselves culturally superior. The Miskitos were ruled by their own kings who took on English names (the earliest recorded king, named Oldman, received an audience with king Charles I), and emulated European dress. Following a formal Treaty of Friendship and Alliance between the Miskitos and Britain in 1740, the Miskito Nation was formally a British protectorate until 1787, and British interest in the region continued until the mid-nineteenth century.

In addition to the Miskitos' native language, Miskito, large numbers of Miskitos speak other languages, particularly Miskito Creole English (which arose through contact with the British), neighbouring indigenous languages such as Rama, and Spanish.

Miskito word: Meaning: English source:
buk book book
dur door door
hilp help help
key key
laik like like
lalah money dollar
lan learn learn
nu know know
pain well fine
prias religious observance prayers
sap shop, store shop
skul school school
tibil table table
truk car, vehicle truck
want want want
wark work work
windar window window

With nearly 200,000 speakers, Miskito is the most widely spoken of a family of languages of Nicaragua and Honduras that has come to be known as Misumalpan. This name is formed from parts of the names of the family's subgroups: MIskito, SUmo, MAtagaLPAN. Although some aspects of the internal family tree within this family are uncertain, it is clear that Miskito stands apart from Sumo and Matagalpan, which seem to share a common lower node, and that in the past Miskito was heavily influenced by other Misumalpan languages. Sumo is thought to have been dominant in the area before the period of Miskito ascendancy. Today the relationship has been reversed: many former Sumo speakers have shifted to Miskito, which has in turn heavily influenced the Sumo dialects. Several of these (Tawahka, Panamahka and Tuahka) constitute the Mayangna sub-branch of Sumo, while the Ulwa language is in another sub-branch. The Matagalpan branch of Misumalpan contains two languages that are now extinct: Matagalpa and Cacaopera. The latter was formerly spoken in parts of eastern El Salvador.

In addition to many elements borrowed from other Misumalpan languages, Miskito has a large number of loanwords from English via Creole, such as those in the table on the left. All the above words occur in the first ten lessons of Miskitu Aisas! Notice how their sounds are adapted to the Miskito language, which only has three vowels: a, i, u.

Even though Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua and Honduras, its influence on Miskito is much more recent and hence more superficial.

How to use the course


Contents and navigation


There are basically two ways to move around inside this course: (1) use the Table of Contents, or (2) move from page to page using the navigation links.

The table of contents


You can get to the table of contents from the course's front page, and also from any other page in the course through a navigation link (see below). You can look at the table of contents right now, if you wish. You are recommended to open it up in a separate browser window so that you can continue reading this page while you inspect the table of contents.

Every page that you need to see as part of the course has a link from the table of contents. Notice how the table of contents page is organised. On the right-hand side there is a list with a darker background, with the heading "The project" at the top. This section has information about the project of creating this course which may or may not interest you as a user (rather than an author) of the course. A little lower down you see another section, "Author's workbench", which contains more technical information that is important for people working on development of the course, but probably unnecessary for other readers. The rest of the table of contents, with a paler blue background, includes everything that people using the course to learn (or learn about) Miskito will need. This is also divided into several sections which will now be mentioned.

The "Getting started" section is where you are now, and as well as this introduction it also includes a guide to pronouncing and spelling the language. These are the pages you will probably want to have at least a quick look at before starting on the lessons. You can always come back to them later on for more detailed study whenever you feel the need.

Next comes the biggest and most important section, "The lessons". The links to the first ten lessons are placed where you can't miss them: in the middle of the screen, immediately after the "Getting started" section. When you get through those, you can scroll down a little to see the rest of the lessons currently available.

Near the bottom of the table of contents there are two more sections: "Reference section" (with vocabularies, appendices, a list of abbreviations and a subject index) and "More about Miskito" (an external links page and a discussion page).

Page-to-page navigation


At the top of every page in the course you will see the flag of the historical Miskito Nation, which is the logo of the course, together with the title of the page or lesson. Notice the three links to the left of the flag logo:

  • a "backwards" link which will usually take you to the previous page (assuming you are following the pages of the course in order)
  • a "forwards" link (marked >Next) which takes you to the next page in order
  • a "Contents" link, which takes you back to the table of contents from any page in the course

You can use these to get around the course. If the "backwards" or "forwards" link takes you where you want to go, you are there with one click. If not, you can go to the table of contents and from there to wherever you want (two clicks away!).

Notice too that there are some links over the vocabulary lists in each lesson providing short cuts to the general vocabularies, the list of abbreviations and the subject index. These will often help you to look up things that you can't remember and are not in the lesson's vocabulary list.

Structure of the course


If you are a new user of this course, it would be a good idea to open up Lesson 1 (or any other lesson, if you prefer) in a separate browser window so that you can examine it while reading the following description.

Each lesson consists of several learning points, which form the main part of the lesson. At the end of the lesson there is a final section containing a list of the new words in the lesson (the Vocabulary) and a practice activity (a review exercise or a reading). At the beginning of the lesson the table of contents lists the learning points.

Each learning point consists of three components: (1) model sentences, (2) comments and (3) a short practice activity or exercise. Different people learn in different ways, so it is up to each learner to decide exactly how to use these. If we think of the comments as "rules", then the model sentences act as "examples" to illustrate them. Some people like to study the examples first and read the rules afterwards. If you are able to infer the rule from the model sentences, then the comment will serve to confirm your hypothesis, if it was right, or correct it, if it wasn't. If you follow this procedure, you will probably want to look at the translations of the model sentences, unless you can guess them, by clicking on the "Show" switch on the right.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to work from rules to examples, then leave the translations hidden at first. After reading the comments, see if you can work out what the examples mean before looking up their meanings. You may like to consult the vocabulary at the end of the lesson as you do this; it will give you a better chance of getting them right.

Don't skip the practice activity. You can use it to check whether you understand the point, to test yourself, or to get accustomed to the mechanisms of the language. The exercises will also help you to acquire the vocabulary. Always try the exercise with the answers hidden first before clicking on "Show" to see if you were right.

When you come to the vocabulary list, if you have already worked through the preceding points and gone through the model sentences and exercises you should already know most of the words on the list by now. In fact, you can easily give yourself a vocabulary test, since the meaning of each word will not be visible until you click on the corresponding "Show" button.

The exercise or reading that follows the vocabulary will touch on several of the points you have studied in the lesson and also reviews both old and new vocabulary items. Once again, hide or display the answers as it suits you.

Where to next?