Language learning has its own groove and rhythm that you quickly settle into. In the beginning it can be overwhelming and you feel “Where do I start?” but it’s not long before the learning process picks up a momentum of it’s own. On Monday for example some guys were cutting grass and I went and watched (watching for the moment, joining in a bit later – it’s very easy to assume things and miss details if you don’t take the time to stop and watch). Right now we’re working on amassing a foundation of hundreds and hundreds of nouns; if you recognise the items people are talking about in speech your close to being able to track what the conversation is about. I knew the word for grass and knife, so I went a little more detailed and did the names for the parts of a knife.

It wasn’t that difficult. The edge of the knife was its teeth (I’ve done body parts), the handle of the knife was a generic word for end, the tip of the knife was the word for shoot (like of a plant). While investigating another guy came and started sharpening his knife on a file which naturally led into asking what’s a sharp knife? Adjectives ahoy!

Later in the afternoon then I gathered a collection of things for big/small, long/short, heavy/light and hey presto another 24 words for the day. I pointed at some bananas and tried for the word for ripe and unripe… but it was clear there was much, much more to that and it’d be best to wait until I was actually picking bananas with someone so I didn’t risk forcing them to say something weird and unnatural (they’d feel compelled to say something to keep me happy!)

Working on adjectives

Even more interesting was talking about where they get the grass knives (it’s like a small sword) from. How often do they go to town? What stores do they like? How do they figure out the quality of the knife? I learned that they don’t take grass knives to their gardens because they’re too fragile – they use machetes and axes instead.
All of this was in Tok Pisin as there’s no way I can carry a conversation in Kovol! Add it to the list of things to investigate when my language ability improves!

Oscar’s new swing

The weather hasn’t been great so far this week so there’s been lots of sitting around the fire chatting. It’s great for going over things we’ve already learned 🙂 To spice it up a bit today (I was pretty tired heading out into the driving rain this afternoon I decided to some spice it up by looking at some verbs.
It opened my eyes to the next level of complexity we’ll have to master!

Kovol verbs change based on who’s doing them:

1 SingularI cutipundinim
1 PluralWe cutipundug
2 SingularYou cutipunduge
2 PluralYou cutipundugas
3 SingularHe cutsipunde
3 PluralThey cutipunduguŋg

There’s a whole lot of difficulty to work through before making any conclusions. Firstly this all needs to be checked multiple times until you’re sure you’ve got it right. We might make mistakes recording it, and our language helpers may have not understood what we were asking about and told us something else (it’s really abstract after all!).
Next, we have to figure out if there is a pattern between verbs, and if there is are there irregular verbs that don’t fit the pattern or are there multiple patterns (for different cases or something like that).
We also have to make sure we’re comparing like to like. I did a set of 6 different verbs today and discovered that the suffix changing isn’t always just the actor. There seems to be an aspect dimension to the suffixes too. One wasn’t fitting the pattern – but it turns out that they were saying he’s smoking (for a while now) which is different from he’s smoking (just started). He’s smoking (just started) followed the pattern, the other one didn’t – but looking at the one that doesn’t fit the pattern it just might yet! Something is added, but it’s not clear what – as we’ve already noticed that syllables can disappear from words when put in a sentence and things can change based on what the next word is :p
Like I said it was a window to the next level of complexity – but we don’t have to master it yet. Right now it’s enough to learn nouns and just collect the data so later we can sit down and have a good think about it.

Hiding from the rain by the fire

In other news Oscar started potty training today 🙂 Gerdine’s been busy and it’s hard to say who’s more tired, I think she might be though! It was a successful first day. Oscar is certainly motivated to earn the M&Ms he gets as a treat for doing his business in the potty, and he’s made a new friend in Leo the potty training lion (who also wears big boy pants like Oscar does).

Leo the potty training lion
Oscar routinely refuses shoes now…

Our vocabulary is growing, but there’s quite a road ahead to becoming fluent enough to teach God’s word!


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