Proverbs 26:11  As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

To translate this passage was one of my tasks at our last Culture and Language Evaluation. Did I nail it? No. What came back from the Kovol people was that a fowl goes to the vomit like the dog does. Oh dear. On my second try (with a hint from the consultant) I did get the message across. But this is not the only task that I had which showed that my language hasn’t progressed at all. This was something I expected but it was still disappointing. I know vocabulary isn’t necessarily my weakness, but my problem is about how I communicate.

Honestly, I know that even when I write or speak in English, I miscommunicate many times. This can be very discouraging, but I have patient or kind teachers. Stacy likes to laugh at my stupid mistakes and I like it as it makes it clear where I have to learn more. And it shows me that she loves me. Not sure if that makes sense, but that is how it is for me. Anyways back to learning the Kovol language.

Discourse Analysis a complicated process

When we communicate, we do many things unconsciously. We have main points that we emphasize in a certain way so that the message comes across. But the way we do it is different from how the people hear it, understand it and communicate. How we break up paragraphs or move to another point is different from how Kovol people do this (or how it is done in any other languages). We use a lot of pronouns in our language, but Kovol uses just the bare minimum of pronouns. Their language includes the actors in the verb itself. I can just say a verb and they know about whom I am talking and when it happened. They use more direct quotes in certain texts and so on. So for me to know how to communicate clearly, I have to know how they talk in their different types of speech. A narrative is different from a hortatory or an explanation text or a process. This we call Discourse Analysis (DA).

Discourse Analysis introduction

I am very thankful that Philip and I are at the same stage in language. He ‘just’ has a lot of other work to do as well, like finishing orthography and the grammar write-up.  But we both are collecting and preparing texts for a discourse analysis. I am so thankful for all the help we can get from experienced missioanries. We will meet up with someone again in May.

Funny thing is, Philip and I were trying to explain to our Kovol friends about what we are working on now, but somehow we both miscommunicated. Rumors spread until our good friend Big K. showed up. This is not the first time that he came to check ‘truth’ with us instead of believing rumors. So we had some long conversations on Sunday to clear up some miscommunication. I am so thankful for K. to have the courage to come and ask us. 

Later he prepared a nice meal for us and gave us some ‘talk’ which he hopes will help us sweeten up our language ability. I wish it would be that easy.

Maybe I will get around to showing you next time how DA looks in more detail. But now I’d better post this quickly as I have tried many, many times to write  blog posts and never got to publish them…

Categories: EnglishHansen


Lois S. · 29/03/2022 at 11:49 pm

Thanks so much Natalie for filling us in. It is amazingly difficult to communicate with people who don’t know your language or culture (and sometimes even with people who do.)

I am very thankful for your willingness to learn to communicate both in English and in Kovol. It takes a lot of effort, brain space, etc., to learn even one additional language. And learning the thinking patterns of another culture that is so different is a real challenge. God bless as you continue to work on learning from, thinking like, speaking to these people who bear God’s image, and show yet another facet of who He is.

Al Hester · 30/03/2022 at 3:27 am

Wow! And we thought the Russian language was challenging (as missionaries in Ukraine years ago). The Koval language sounds very very challenging! May God strengthen you in every way!!!

Colette Harding · 31/03/2022 at 6:18 am

Yes, thank you so much. I really appreciate this whole blog post as it shares so much more clearly just what an immense task you all face learning so much in the tribal areas. May God continue to help you as you press on with Kovol.

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