We’ve spent enough time in Kovol now that daily greetings (and the dialect differences) have started to sink in.
While we weren’t giving our full-time attention to language while we were building houses and settling in, building relationships was a goal and a few phrases here and there go a long way!

We call things like daily greetings ‘practical expressions’ and we just memorize them. Usually, in our language learning style we’re making sure that we understand what we’re saying, learning doesn’t happen by repeating what we hear with no understanding. We make sure we understand what we’re hearing and saying and try work at a level where we’re at ‘understanding plus 1’, which means we’re a little out of our comfort zone and learning, but not overwhelmed.

Practical expressions though are those everyday sayings that it’s just good to memorize and use – even if we don’t understand all the grammar (or even words!) we’re using (common phrases and greetings may well be irregular anyway). It gives us something we can use in our day to day relationships.

So how do you say hello in Kovol? Check this out (take all this with a large pinch of salt, we have a lot to learn! Also we write in international phonetic alphabet right now, this isn’t it – I sounded it out as an English speaker might):

Sanapim dialectSlipim dialect
Good morningsamog bileesibone bele
Good daykwaningem bileekwaningem bele
Good afternoonuligong limong bileeuligong limong bele
Good nightinam bileeisan bele

The word bilee (or bele) is the word for good/I agree/peace. Kwaning is the word for sun, and that’s about as far as our understanding goes at the moment. It’s nice to have something to say when you see someone though!

See some differences? Even with the greetings we’re seeing that there are two main Kovol dialects, and possibly a third – that needs some investigating.
The two dialects have pronounciation differences where in some words the Sanapim dialect uses a glottal stop sound and the Slipim dialect uses the same word but with k instead of the glottal sound.
Then sometimes vowels change like the ee in bilee changing to e, or “elais” (taro kongkong) being prounounced “elis”, or in some cases the word is different all together.
The word for sweet potato is either “anip” or “gras” depending on the dialect.
In fact you can hear that each of the 7 villages has an accent, a unique twist on the greetings and they correct us if we use the wrong one! That means we have to remember where people come from so we can use their version of the greeting.

We’re probably going to have to learn to speak the Sanapim dialect which is the dialect of the village we live in, and just record differences in our dictionary as we go for the other dialect. We’ve got a whole lot of investigating to do to see just how similar these dialects are for literacy and translation purposes – no conclusions just yet!

It doesn’t seem like there’s a ‘winning’ dialect that has a size or prestige advantage, so each group is telling us we should learn their dialect 🙂 It’s pretty incredible that a language with 1000 speakers located in 7 villages can have such variety!

What’s with the names? Well we ask things like “hey, we notice you guys say “osoviag” for cucumber and the guys from the other village say “kosoviag”, what’s that about?”
“We stand the word up and say “osoviag”, they lie the word down and say “kosoviag”.
Well, okay then. Guess it makes sense to them and we’ll call them sanapim and slipim dialects.

Another practical expression that we’ve used extensively is “let’s go!” We’ve done quite a bit of hiking in the course of milling all the wood we need for our houses, and this expression comes up a lot. It’s used as a transition from sitting and chatting to activity.
The interesting thing is that you say either:

Let’s go (up)ilug
Let’s go (down)yug

The let’s go is an inclusive one (let’s all go), but there are also exclusive varieties for I’m going, you go, we excluding you are going etc. We’ve not learned those yet.
The most intersting part is that you need to specify whether you’ll be walking up or down hill – which I guess makes sense to a mountain people.

The tricky part is in the details – up or down in regards to what? Does absolute elevation count so that as long as the destination is higher than the departure you say “let’s go up”?, or is it more localised and even if the destination is actually at a slightly lower altitude you need to climb over a ridge in between you’d say “let’s go up”.
What about the road is percieved as flat (probably doesn’t exist in Kovol!)?

For now it’s a bit of guess work on our part. If we’re down at the river and we say “let’s go” to start heading home it’s obviously upwards – but between villages – our knowledge of the local geography isn’t good enough.
Once we’ve got it figured out for our daily use in Kovol a challenge way down the road will be when we start translating.

On that day, when evening ha come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

Mark 4:35

It may well be the case that to translate this as gramatically correct Kovol we’ll need to specify if upward or downward motion was involved 🙂 Again we’ll find out!

Be praying for us as we put our heads to really studying this language and getting answers to our questions.


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