Photo books have been my go-to language learning technique for a while now:
- Go to an event and take pictures
- Print a dozen or so pictures out which tell the story of the event
- Show the pictures and get a recording of a sentence for each picture
- Write it out and listen to the recording a lot
- Go out and “tell the story” by pointing at the pictures and using the sentence you learned
- As you get comfortable pull out different details, do it in another tense and otherwise riff on it
I’m starting to feel that I need something new though. I’m finding that even for new events it’s only taking a few days now to feel comfortable with the sentences I’ve obtained and I’m left wondering what now? Should I do another one? (Comfortable doesn’t mean 100% fluent of course!)
Since now my interest is in how to join these sentences together better I decided it was time to write a story.
I took my fence-building photo book I’d been working on and I wrote a 100-word story telling how I went down, didn’t know the way so got a guide, got to the garden, ate sugar cane, did the work and then came back in the rain with the kids.
I was stretching myself here aiming to use sentences with but in them (I went but I didn’t know the way) and also using some of the enclitics that link sentences together (more on that later).
The advantage of course of writing it at home is that I could check in our dictionary to double check I had all the irregular verb conjugations correct and could take my time to think of how to say things. In person I certainly can’t tell a story as well as I can if I pre-prepare it!
The good news upon printing and reading out my story is that it communicated! It received some tweaks, but other than that it got across the story 🙂
Now I applied the corrections I got and read it to someone else. A few more corrections came out; it’s getting better and better.
Here’s the real meat of it though. I asked this second hearer “That’s the way I said it. Could you tell me the story again in your words?”. Now I had my story side by side with the same story spoken by a true Kovol speaker and I could compare.
What content was removed, what was added? How were sentences built, what tense was it all in? Lots of interesting questions.
I did this 3 times so I had 3 Kovol versions of my story to make sure patterns I was seeing weren’t just one person’s style.
I found out that I was using too many independent clauses, 2 to 4 times as many as Kovol speakers. Here’s as an example from my story:
seniyom (stick) yab (go down) obob (get) pigomung (we put). otogot (post) yab (go down) obob (get) tugab (carry) pigomung (we put). seniyom (stick) torogot (fence) mende (log) pigomung (we put). pigeb (put) , ume (top) agatoomung (we supported).
Notice the word pigomung? The verb root “pig” takes a proper ending (-omung) which means we in the past tense. I use it a lot.
You can also use it in a dependent clause though and you can stack the verbs. Notice pigeb, in this case it takes the -eb ending which means that this action and the one following it are done by the same person. We call it a dependent clause though because it can’t stand on its own. Pigomung (we put it) is a perfectly complete Kovol sentence all on it’s own, but pigeb leaves the talk hanging — something needs to follow.
There are also different endings for this verb and the one following if they are done by different people – but we’ll leave that for now! We saw this stacking of verbs very early on, but it took a while to understand it. The -eb ending is an enclitic – it attaches to the word as a suffix, but its meaning comes out only at sentence level.
Anyway looking at the Kovol stories I saw I don’t stack enough. It’s got one of those endings that say the verb after this is done by someone else -osu. See if you can spot it:
seniyom (stick) obomung (we got) otogot (post) obob (get) ilib (come up) umee (top) agatob (support), seniyom (stick) tolob (plant) mende (log) pigeb (put) pe (hole) lutosu (cover) hogot (pig) teb (come) mu (not) sindee (inside) yab (go down) mena (food) mu (not) ni (eat)
I’m repeating pigomung (to put) too much. Since the whole process is one big chunk of action I need to continue stacking my verbs for the duration of the chunk. Fun stuff.
Round 2 was trying to apply these lessons to a 2nd story, this time the story about the grass-cutting day. I looked for every opportunity to stack… and it seems I did it too much!
I also ran into a problem checking it. Since a dependent clause can’t stand alone it’s really difficult to break up the super-long sentences to check each part because if you split it up to check that each verb is correct you’ll tend to hear people closing the sentence off for you with an independent clause wherever you split it.
It makes checking these long sentences an all-or-nothing type thing. For it to work each part has to be correct, but splitting it up to check each part changes it. Heisenburg uncertainty indeed.
So here I am now with 2 stories I’ve written out… how to go from reading prepared Kovol stories to speaking them off the cuff… give it time?