Permission to steal?

Roger Van Otterloo tells of the time he was discussing translation with his Kifuliiru friends (Democratic Republic of Congo) and he uttered the sentence “Don’t steal from widows!” They started chuckling, and soon everyone was laughing uproariously. Roger was mystified and wondered if he’d used the wrong tone (Kifuliiru is a tonal language) or what. The Kifuliirus told him, no, the tone was fine, but what he said implied that they could steal from everyone besides widows!

Roger found out that day that the last word in Kifuliiru is the focus, the main point, of the entire sentence. So you need to say  “Those widows, don’t steal-from-them.” The “from-them” is a suffix on the verb, so the last word in the sentence is now “steal.”

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