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from the PALI edition of the Marshallese-English Dictionary
(in which references to the MRG have been updated)

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5. Place Names

More than 3,000 names of islets, land tracts, and other named entities in the Marshall Islands are included in a special section at the end of this volume. These were collected by students at the Marshall Islands Intermediate School under the supervision of Byron W. Bender in 1957 at the request of E. H. Bryan, Jr., of the Bishop Museum. The names collected were later analyzed in Bender 1963b, where they were classified as to whether or not they had some meaning in addition to being the name of a geographical entity. The various types of meanings found in that analysis are given together with the names in this dictionary, in abbreviated form.

Four main types were found, beginning with those that were completely grammatical and meaningful on the one hand, and shading off into those that were completely unanalyzable and meaningless on the other. The abbreviations used for these four types are:

Gramm.Fully grammatical and meaningful.
Recur. form.Contains recurring formants, but not fully meaningful.
Reminisc. gramm.Reminiscent of grammatical constructions, but not fully meaningful.
Unanalyz.Unanalyzable and meaningless, except for being the name of a place.

Examples of fully grammatical names are Ṃōnōbbo 'house of spear fishing at the edge of the reef', Ṃōn-ekkōñ 'house of the Terminalia litoralis tree', and Jabōn-bar 'end of the rock'.

Several subtypes of the general grammatical category are also indicated with the following abbreviations:

Gramm. distort.Grammatical and meaningful, but with some distortion in the form of the word.
Pers. name.Meaningful, involving the name of a person.
Loan.Meaningful, involving a loanword borrowed from another language.

Examples of distorted names are Ṃwin-kipin-pat 'house of the bottom of the swamp', which has vowel sounds changed from the fully grammatical Ṃōnkapin-pat, Ṃōnikkūñ 'house of the Terminalia litoralis tree' but with the last two vowel sounds changed (compare with the unchanged fully grammatical example above); and Jabwe-ṇo 'end of the waves' and Jabwi-ṇa-eṇ 'end of that shoal', in which the word for 'end of has archaic forms rather than the jabōn that would be the grammatical form in the present-day language. Examples of place names that involve the name of a person are Ṃōttaṃōj (from Ṃōn-Taṃōj 'house of Thomas', Ṃōn-Waju 'house of Waju'; a number that are recognizable as the names of famous or legendary persons: Jebrọ, Jiruullōñ, Jemaluut; and others that are recognizable as the names of persons because they contain the Li- or Ḷa- person prefixes (see the “Personal names” section within MRG 3.2.1 on pages 120–22): Limarpe, Limādbōb, Liṃwijlọk, Ḷañidaan, Ḷajōutol, Ḷajuṃaat, etc. Examples of borrowed names include Jotōṃ 'Sodom', Jerea 'Syria' , Jinai 'Sinai', Jipein 'Spain', Jiruujlem 'Jerusalem', Julu 'the Sulu Sea', etc.

Examples of words that contain recurring formants that are less than fully meaningful include the following: Ṃwi-tete, Teteḷabuk, Teteḷañ-rak, Tiete, and Tiete-eṇ, all of which contain the formant tete or tiete, which probably once meant something but no longer does. A similar example includes Pieo, Pieoḷe-eṇ, Pienḷwe, Pienmej, Pienṃōn, Piiooḷḷe, Piiooṇḷwe-rālik, etc., all of which include the recurring formant pieo or pien.

One subtype of the recurring formant category is labeled as:

Part. recur. form.Contains recurring formants, but only partially so, or with them combined in an unusual way.

Examples of this sort include Buoj-kōp, with the recurring formant buoj, but with the remainder of the word uncertain in identification, possibly coming from kōpkōp 'struggle': Kobūkōr, in which the last part of the word is identical to the name of a variety of pandanus (Būkōr), but which does not especially make sense together with the ko- 'you are' subject pronoun; and Ṃōtbaru, which can be identified as ṃōt 'what house?' and baru 'crab' which do not make sense when combined in this way.

Examples of the third major type, those which are reminiscent of grammatical constructions, but are not fully meaningful, include the following: Kepinle, reminiscent of kapin ḷwe 'bottom of the pond'; Lọñloñ, reminiscent of lañloñ 'joy'; Ṃōn-kure, reminiscent of ṃōn ikkure 'house of play'; Ṃwillukubwe, reminiscent of eṃ ilo kūbwe 'house in the feces'; Ṃōllokmar, reminiscent of eṃ ilukōn mar 'house in the middle of the bushes'; and Reo, reminiscent of erreo 'clean'.

One subtype of the reminiscent category is labeled as:

Part. reminisc. gramm.Reminiscent of a grammatical construction, but only partially so, or with unidentifiable formants.

This is the last subcategory in which any shade of meaning may be seen, and all other names not in it or one of the preceding categories have been labeled "unanalyzable." Examples of the partially reminiscent category include: Denikden, reminiscent of dān i kiden 'water at the Messerschmidia tree'; Ṃañin-bōōt, with the first part possibly meaning 'pate of'; Peniaḷ, with the last part identical to the word for 'road' Ṃwin-kipillo, 'house at the bottom of the lo,' with no clear meaning for the last syllable.

There has of necessity been some indeterminacy in the assigning of all the intermediate categories, between those labeled "grammatical" and those labeled "unanalyzable." On the one hand there is danger of reading into a name meanings that were never there, the process known as "folk etymologizing," and on the other hand one hopes not to lose sight of meanings that have become obscured through changes in the language or changes in the pronunciation of the names. The authors have tried to steer a middle course in this matter, but many of their decisions are deserving of some questioning.

An attempt has been made to provide possible translations for the names. The reader should be careful not to accept as certain the translations given for names that are not labeled as grammatical. Translations given for names labeled as containing recurring formants (or as being only reminiscent of the grammar of the language) are nothing more than educated guesses as to what these names might have meant originally.

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