Language learning isn’t a desk job. That’s what we had drilled into us in training, but starting with language learning again after Christmas I’m finding so much of my time is at a desk.

It’s tempting to go out and get a bit of language and then spend days in the office picking at it, memorizing it and exhausting it to feel it’s been understood, before going out to get more. It’s the “take a glass home and nurse it approach” and it can be quite tempting. We’re encouraged to go more for the “stand with your mouth open in front of a fire hose” approach. Get out there with a bit of a plan of how you might not be overwhelmed; you can’t just let it wash over you, You have to really work hard to pick out what you can understand, or what you could stretch to understand and then come home and do it again the next day.

The number of recordings piles up, you take the 5% you’re ready for and you move on and do it again the next day.
I track my time and make sure that I’m spending more time out with people getting new stuff, or with people trying to use old stuff, than I am at the desk.

Now, however, I’m finding I spend lots more time at the desk. I can remember regularly going out to the village and gardens to see new things, but it’s becoming hard to remember the last time I did that.

I’ve been working on our culture file and doing a lot of interviews. The latest batch was on weather and also tools:

  • Is there water up in the clouds? How does it get there? (Yes there is. When the cloud sweats rain comes down,. We don’t know how it gets there; it just does.)
  • When do rainbows come? Do they have any particular meaning? (They come when it’s rained, and they mean it just rained)
  • What happens in big earthquakes? (Landslides, trees falling down, houses falling down and traps setting themselves off)
  • Where do steel tools come from? (White people make them)

The problem I’m finding is that transcribing the answers after the interviews takes longer than getting them. Once I get 3 sources for a piece of information, I can add a little summary to the 1-1 Geography and weather category; again more drafting and document work.

Spending lots of time here

It feels like my language learning progress is slowing down because my focus isn’t on communicating better in the Kovol language right now. It’s on documenting it and getting the paperwork we need to do completed.
I’m still working with the language. I’m asking questions in Kovol and going over the interviews afterwards, but I’m only really after “what are they saying” and not thinking about “how did they say that, and how could I say something similar?”

The other big project is preparing for discourse analysis. I need 5 narrative texts, 5 hortatory texts and 3 procedural ones, each about 100 propositions long (a 2-3 minute monologue). These can be quite hard to come by – you need to ask the right person. If we ask someone to tell us a story we tend to get 30-second to1-minute monologues that are too short. Once you get one recorded (exciting) then it’s time to transcribe it. Unlike the culture interviews, though, where I’m interested in the answer to the question, with these, I’m interested in every little word and syllable used. I need a super-accurate, word-for-word transcription. We’ll take these texts then and deep dive. How do propositions relate? How are actors introduced and exited? Where is the climax of the story and how is that indicated? How is an argument built and how do you mark the main point?

Alice and Millie at work while I work

This study should give us some ideas on how to tell a good story and build a good argument, and should also shed some light on a few little markers we see in our recordings. I keep seeing i and o after verbs which no-one can tell me the meaning of and which never appear when the sentence is given in isolation. Those are likely discourse-level markers… and we’re not sure what they represent yet but in some way they lubricate or sweeten your speech when you’re joining paragraphs together.

The study when it comes will be lots of time at the desk, but getting the stories transcribed is also a lot of time at the desk right now.

The desk work feels like a distraction though. I feel guilty for not being out with people working on communicating better.

I’d made good progress on my last language check, but we saw that our culture file was behind. Hence the goal to get the first 20 of 100+ cultural summaries investigated and written up. These months are feeling like a mad dash to get it done at the expense of language learning. When there are 80 more cultural summaries to write before we can finish our language and culture study though I don’t want the initial draft of the first 20 to take longer than a few months – it doesn’t bode well for our future timeline to bringing literacy and the gospel to the Kovol people! Ahh so much work to do! Why can’t I do it faster?

In other news, Juli didn’t give birth over Christmas, and she still hasn’t. She’s now certainly overdue and we’re thinking she might have gone into the early stages of labour 5 days ago (because she reports pain and tightening, but she’s still able to sleep). Her last pregnancy saw her spending 2 weeks in the hospital in early labour with no progress which ended in a C-section. We’re starting to be concerned. The only flight we could possibly offer out to town is next Thursday.
Our policy is that we only fly people out in emergencies, and only when it works with the helicopter schedule. Right now it’s not an emergency…but it’s very concerning. So we’re sort of breaking policy looking at getting a flight booked. We’re very uneasy about it and we’re working on staying positive as we interact with Juli as her confidence is absolutely vital. Please be praying for a safe delivery for her!


Mandy Caley · 12/01/2023 at 5:51 pm

When do Townleys arrive? Will pray about Juli’s baby. And all the filing.

Wim Evers · 13/01/2023 at 12:28 am

HI there both, we wil also pray for a healthy delivery. Thanks for the update.

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