So many details, so much to learn, so much to do!
After returning to Kovol we’ve been getting back into language learning. I actually always find getting started a little difficult. Before our break, I was chugging away, but then you stop, return and think to yourself “Where was I? What was I doing again?” It takes a week or so to get going again and shake the sense of aimlessness.
Now I’ve replaced that sense of feeling aimless and free with a sense of being snowed under, behind and never able to achieve anything 😀 Swings and roundabouts!
I took a bit of time planning and timetabling out finishing the big projects we have to do: a grammar write-up, phonemic write-up and culture write-up. We get language checks every 6 months and assuming we go up 1 level each time, I’ll be communicating at the required level to check out of language study in April 2024. Then timetabling out how many cultural summaries we need to write as a team, I discovered that there’s no way to get those all done by that time; it’d be an unbearable pace!
Our team was completely at loggerheads over how to build a lexicon. There was quite a heated disagreement and it didn’t look as if we’d be able to agree on a process to use in order to reach an agreement on the spelling of different words. I put my best thinking into a flow chart which very formally laid out the process I was imagining would work… and we agreed. I’m still not sure if our hearts were softened and we were able to leave behind personal grievances and agree, or if we were just miscommunicating the whole time and all it needed was a flowchart to make it clear and concrete.
Great news though! We agreed on a way forward.
With such a breakthrough I wanted to prepare all the different things we’d need to make it work which included some coding to help automatically highlight words a certain colour when we transcribe so we know what state a word is in. Days spent coding, removing 1900 duplicate entries from our lexicon, and preparing spreadsheets and a flowchart made me feel guilty I wasn’t out and chatting to people. The last 6 months I’ve been so focussed on getting culture interviews done that I’ve neglected speaking exercises. I do some speaking exercises, but then I feel guilty I’m not progressing on the phonemic write-up. I sit inside to do the phonemic write-up and I feel guilty that the culture interviews I got a few days ago aren’t processed and written up yet. There’s just so much to do!
At the same time I’m trying to make sure I don’t work too long, that I exercise, that I go to bed early and that I enjoy my little ones. What a task we have! Oh how long it all takes!
Anyway with all these loose ends here are a few things I can highlight. The first is a story from an older man about a big earthquake when he was young. I’ve translated it from Kovol for you, and if it leaves you scratching your head… me too. I’ll file this one under 1-1 Geography and Weather 🙂
Long ago when I was little and my fathers were around, they sang out. We were there and Mum wanted to take food and go and leave. She wanted us to go and sleep at Memetonn. We went there, and while there, there was a big earthquake. We got some talk? We came up to our place. We stayed and for 2 weeks the earthquake shook. There was no food to eat. We didn’t eat for 2 weeks. A big earthquake was going. There was no fire and no water. We were like that and then it left. Food was short. The sun was dim. That finished and we ate. It went afternoon, night and morning. We weren’t doing well. Our fathers went and got limbum for the fire? They went like that. He tied a fire down low in Memetonn. We were scared and walked around. (walking by torch light?) That’s the story I’ve told you todayNambi, from Kokoma village
Regarding phonemics (the art/science of deciding which letters to use in an alphabet) our write-up was returned to us with comments from our consultants, who I must say are brilliant. They were able to identify some fuzzy reasoning and suggest that we might be going the wrong way with certain consonant clusters.
So in the Kovol language, it looks like consonant clusters may not be a thing. The words that we have containing them are all of a certain type, and they could all be broken up by inserting vowels. For example /pyam/ for “stairs” could be /piyam/ and /hwam/ for pot could be /huwam/. The linguistics is telling us that we probably should insert those vowels, but we felt this was a bit messier and more complex.
It’s great to have consultants who can speak into that and they questioned our reasoning for thinking this would be messier and more complex. We justified it based on checking with the few literate Kovol speakers what they preferred and there was a slight preference for not inserting the vowel. It was quite helpfully pointed out to us though that what is good for people who are already literate can be quite different for people who are illiterate (the vast majority in Kovol).
With that in mind, I taught some of the guys how to count syllables using beats. We practised with some easy words and once they were able to count syllables we tried /pyam/, and sure enough they reported 3 syllables. Now we’re going to need to repeat this with lots of different people to see, and maybe we’ll find that we should follow what linguistics is leading us to, not what we feel is better (as outsiders learning the language). Fascinating stuff!
On the whole, we’re doing well. I feel like I have so much on my plate that I don’t do any one thing particularly well, but our stress levels feel ok. Sorry it’s taking so long Kovol friends. Hopefully, we’ll get there in the end!