We’re into month 6 of language learning and I’m starting to see that progress is settling down to a steady pace. Steady progress is still progress though 🙂 Figuring out grammatical rules, putting clauses together and attempting to express thoughts is much more difficult than pointing to something and saying its name, after all.
I’m at the stage where pointing at each picture in my photo books and saying a phrase about what’s going on is getting easy. It’s not easy yet; I’m still making mistakes and forgetting things! This is the stage of language learning where you can’t see much improvement from one week to the next.
Last week I mentioned I had started digging into family terms. I’ve been picking at that for 5 days now and I don’t feel much further ahead than I was. The idea I had of setting up our 3 family missionary team as a family worked great. First, us guys were all brothers – what does everyone call each other. Then we did all the ladies were sisters and finally, I’m the middle brother with 2 sisters.
Why does it take 5 days to get family vocabulary? Well, we’re juggling two dialects, people make mistakes and some terms mean the same thing. Figuring out which is which takes a while and I’ve had several times when I’ve thought I’ve got it only to be disappointed when I try it out!
I’ve discovered that there is a word for younger brother that can only be used in the 3rd person.
There’s a word for ‘my younger brother’, but there’s a different word for ‘your younger brother’ that only someone else can use. In fact there are about 6 of these 3rd person terms; maybe there’s one for every relative?
Uncles on your dad’s side or mum’s side have different words, brother in law has two different words for the same thing, but sister in law has different words for older or younger.
I’ve tied my head in knots trying to keep all the relations straight and I think I have enough for now! I’ll be coming back to this later!
I’ve been cooped up in our neighbourhood for 2 weeks now because of neck pain and sores continuing to pop up on my leg. It was great to get out for an afternoon yesterday.
“Hey all you Kovol guys have slingshots in your bags, I’ve just got pens and paper – I want to go get a slingshot” and off we went.
There’s a particular tree root (a “salamata”) that is often forked and becomes very strong when it dries out so we went hunting for one. I don’t know how the Kovol guys move in the jungle so easily. I blinked one time and the guy in front of me was suddenly behind me, up a muddy, chest high bank behind impenetrable bush. It felt like magic, and it took me a good minute to get my balance and force my way through the vines. I still don’t know how he managed it.
I had my camera out as the guys started whittling the fork into a slingshot shape, expecting to make another photo book of it. ‘Saluʔaminim’ that’s carving it, then ‘saligitinim’ for shaving it. I’ve heard those before with food preparation.
My “language learning is slowing down” feeling was right there.
I started asking about how often people made these,;what’s the limiting material (it’s the rubber and leather for the catapult; how long do they last etc. All of this is in Tok Pisin because our Kovol isn’t good enough to ask.
Then he suddenly says “siŋgɛriŋ ogo igisiŋ”, ‘It will last forever’. Any lethargy I felt melts away, I might have just stumbled across a key term we’ll use in Bible teaching. I’m suddenly reminded why we’re doing this, to share with them about the eternal one; and I might have just stumbled into the very words we’ll use to do it. Maybe not, it needs investigation down the road; but I’m suddenly excited again.
Today was a satisfying language day. I took two 30 second stories I had recorded, wrote them out as best I could at home and then sat with some guys, played the recording and we accurately wrote down what was said. I’m picking up all kinds of nifty things.
It looks like we might have another tense on our hands with the verbs…
I also found out that ͏ɛβ means mountain and ɛb is a short form of the verb ‘to see’. We’ve been looking for weeks and weeks for unambiguous evidence that both b and β exist as phonemes. The two sounds so often seem to blend into each other and we’ve been wondering if they might not be the same letter in Kovol people’s minds.
I suppose that’s quite a bit of progress this week actually…