We’ve been having a lot of meetings together recently and it’s been terrific. A big focus in recent weeks has been to check through and try to fill in our Grammar write-up. As we gradually learn more and more about how the language works, things that we’ve previously written up are always up for discussion.

We’ve been concentrating on phrases,clauses and sentences, rather than how individual words are built up and we’re pleased with our progress. Later on we’ll have to go back and fill in the details at word level, but our goal is to complete our grammar write-up for phrase level upwards before our advanced linguistic workshop (ALW) in July. During the ALW we’ll be deep diving into some Kovol texts to figure out exactly how propositions (thoughts) fit together and how the whole thing works as a unit.

Our latest team photo

We’ve been advised to finish off our Grammar write-up before then so we don’t start identifying things we see as significant to the paragraph that are actually just sentence-level things we didn’t know about.

As we peer into Kovol sentence construction we’re getting a little confused as to what counts as a sentence and what doesn’t. One example is this which we used on a hike recently:

sib (rain) egee (will) lebinn (come down) og, yug (let’s go)

The translation we get for that in Tok Pisin is “no good it rains, let’s go”, so in English that’d be something like “in order to avoid the rain, let’s go”.
With that translation leading our thinking, we thought we’d discovered a word (og) that could be used to join two independent sentences.

The kids lined up

Both “sib egee lebinn”, “it’s going to rain” and “yug”, “let’s go” are valid independent sentences.

So for a few days we’ve been thinking about that and trying to use that sort of sentence. Hiking back with a friend I see a garden fence, and try to use it to say “to avoid pigs going in you build a fence”. My friend says his little sentence into my voice recorder and when I write it out and dissect it, something interesting happens.

He didn’t say “og”, our new mysterious sentence joiner; he said “oog” which means “and” or “with”. He seems to be saying “with pigs, with fences, without pigs without fences”. So of course now we’re scratching our heads wondering if og and oog are the same or different, and to make matters worse oog “with” and hoog “to see – future tense” are almost the same in our dialect of Kovol… so is one or all of those the verb to see? Wow what confusion!

Philip then pulled out an example of “nendinn (hit you) og” which in context meant “look out it’s going to hit you”. More head-scratching ensues; that’s not joining anything together, it stands alone. Is it possible that it’s joining something and it’s just left implicit… probably not… hmm.

So now our latest idea is that “og” is indicating a subjunctive mode – in other words “might”. The ball might hit you. The rain might come. It seems to work for all the sentences we have so far. So if it’s not a sentence joiner, but it makes the verb mean “might” should we attach it to the verb or have 2 separate words? Nedinnog or nedinn og? Does it matter? Can we just choose a convention?

We have other head scratching problems, but I won’t tell you about any more! I just wanted to illustrate the kind of fog of uncertainty we operate in. It’s not something that’s easy to cut through because you can easily create nonsense sentences and get people agreeing that they sort of work – but that will tend to lead you to the wrong answers.
In Kovol saying things like “he went down, picked up the log, carried it on his shoulder and came up” is very common. I’d like to know if I can say something like “he went down, picked up the log, didn’t carry it on his shoulder and came up”. I know the “didn’t” can apply to the whole sentence (but then why would you use such a specific long sentence to say he didn’t get the log?), but can the “didn’t” apply to just one of the actions in the sentence and not the whole? To try and dig into it invites nonsense – we just have to live with the uncertainty and wait till someone uses it in a natural context.
It’s so tempting to build fanciful, nonsensical sentences to see where the boundaries lie though!

It’s good progress on getting things written up and team-approved despite the unknowns.

One of our friends had a grass-cutting accident 🙁

Somewhere else we’re making progress is in spelling. We now have a sort of spellcheck enabled on our culture file. Whenever we transcribe a Kovol text and upload it now, what we’ve written gets compared to our dictionary (a spreadsheet) and things that aren’t recognised get written in red. We’ve been uploading texts and then changing spelling or updating the dictionary to reduce the amount of red we see and gradually how we all spell words is coming to a consensus.

We took a family trip down to a community work day this week. We went to see progress on building the walling for a new house. This involved a 40-minute hike down (and up). Oscar did super well – he’s getting good at hiking and then he had fun for a while climbing around the build site. Alice and Millie need to be carried so it’s a good workout for us and after arriving Gerdine was encouraged to take Alice and Millie off to where all the ladies were. As is very common in PNG there’s a division of labour and the men were all building and the women were cooking the food, with the owner of the house responsible to feed everyone who came.
It’s a lot of work to hike out with little ones, and our attention is pretty split between childcare and language learning, but we really enjoyed it and all that small talk hopefully adds up to something.

Millie hanging out at the build site

I’d downloaded a short Youtube video of a guy in Canada building a log shelter in a snowy forest. I showed it to one guy and didn’t let anyone else see and then got a recording of that guy explaining it to everyone else. I was hoping to see how he set the scene and explained that it was a snowy place and very different… but he didn’t so much 🙂 I guess I need to find someone really chatty who likes to wax eloquent on details 😀


Nelvie Herr · 25/05/2023 at 10:30 pm

Thanks Steve for such a great update and all the pictures🙏🙏

    SteveStanley · 26/05/2023 at 8:33 am

    I thought you’d enjoy the pictures 🙂 Team pictures are always good to show off!

Janet Wohlgemut · 26/05/2023 at 2:04 am

Wow you guys! What work! What creativity. Can’t wait to see how God helps you figure all this out…for His glory and their benefit. Keep up the great work!

    SteveStanley · 26/05/2023 at 8:32 am

    Thanks! There’s lot to do yet! We’re praying that God reveals things to us by people using these little words in just the right context that we see exactly what they do. It’s a bit of a waiting game, but there’s also the fact that we weren’t aware until now that we needed to pay attention to it! It’s a messy process for sure

Neil · 26/05/2023 at 2:47 am

I love these little grammar updates every now and then, keep them coming. Praying for you all.

    SteveStanley · 26/05/2023 at 8:30 am

    I’m glad you enjoy them, I know some people do, but some people instantly glaze over so I try to be sparing 😆

Lois S. · 26/05/2023 at 12:22 pm

I also enjoy the grammar updates. It is intriguing!

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