Our goal is to communicate at a high level in the Kovol language. We want to teach Bible lessons so we don’t tire our audience out because they’re putting effort into understanding our weird accent and way of speaking.
Perhaps it’s partially inevitable, but we’re still doing all we can to learn to communicate as clearly as possible.

We’ve learned that the Kovol language isn’t particularly descriptive. I guess it’s because no one ever has to describe what a banana looks like because anyone you’d talk to in the Kovol language knows what one looks like. That’s my theory anyway.
As we look forward to teaching lessons we’re thinking about how we go about introducing new concepts. How do we describe new things? How do we introduce unfamiliar settings? When describing something where does detail need to be put and where can it be glossed over?

Meanwhile inside, Gerdine is pretending to be an Astronaut

To try and figure these things out I’ve been downloading YouTube videos onto my phone. I downloaded one where a Canadian bushcraft guy built himself a log shelter in the woods. With just an axe and a saw, he builds a simple log cabin, sets a fire, cooks some meat and sleeps the night. This is all very familiar to the Kovol people, except it’s a snowy place. I showed the video to one of the guys while I had everyone else go somewhere else and after watching I had him explain what he saw to the group and recorded the audio for study.
Interestingly there wasn’t a big setup for the setting. “It’s an ice place” he said (using the Tok Pisin word for ice, because Kovol doesn’t have one!). The walls for the cabin were logs stacked one on the other between two trees which looks like how they make pig fences here. So my friend takes that word and uses it as expected. A point of clarification he made and spent some time on was the fact that the roof was flat. So I learned that I should do the same 🙂
He completely glossed over (or didn’t notice) that there was a chimney to the cabin so all the smoke from the fire went out there – rather than the Kovol norm of smoke filling the room. On the other hand, he was very specific that there were two spits of meat that he had for his dinner 🙂

I’ve tried several times myself to describe the video and then showed it to people and asked if I described it well (to which everyone tells me I did). I’m hoping the several hours of work put into it make me a better speaker? Who knows, progress is so gradual I can’t tell!

On to the next video, and here it is:

It’s a video on making traditional laminate bows. It’s once again familiar to the Kovol people who make their own bows, but with a twist. Kovol bows are carved from a single piece of wood and have a bamboo string, whereas these are laminates with a nylon string.

I had a go at describing it. Straight away I’m struggling with vocabulary for cutting thin strips, but I struggle through and they seem to get it. The gluing of the pieces is messy (I don’t record myself because I can’t stand to hear how badly I speak) but it comes across and I decide that the press the bow is put into is quite an important thing to describe. I have no idea what vocabulary to use for such a thing, but it’s so foreign to them that I think it needs describing. After some more cutting, gluing, notching and later rope-making I finish my description and show the video.

Rainy days out

Afterwards I ask my friend to describe the video back to me and here’s what he says:

The Kovol text

I know the text is probably too small to read, and you wouldn’t understand it if it was larger. What I want to show off is the colours. Red is for words that are completely not in our dictionary, green for words in our dictionary but not marked as checked and black for words marked as team-approved. As we transcribe texts we’re working to gradually add new words to our dictionary and we’re also agreeing on spelling for entries that already exist. It’s getting there!

Here’s what he says in English:

This is talk about making a bow. A friend made a bow and I’m going to talk. He wants to make a bow and he cuts wood pieces. After cutting them he splits them into 6 parts. He does that well. He gets tree blood and puts it. He puts tree blood on each piece Heputs it like that and goes up and presses them tightly. He puts the 6 pieces tightly, tying them together. When that’s done he notches the two ends. When it’s good he makes the rope. He cuts a flat hole in the tip and at the base. When that’s done he makes the rope and puts it on. Then he gets meat skin, puts it on the bow, wraps it and ties it on. Then he gets the rope, knots the ends and puts it on the bow. He tightens it and he gets an arrow. He shoots for no reason at a tree seed. Bad talk I’ve spoken.

Hmm. Turns out that describing the jig is not the natural thing to do. It’s tricky to know. It could also be that my friend wasn’t comfortable trying to describe something he didn’t recognise or understand which would be perfectly reasonable. You can see from his final comment that he’s not comfortable with what he said.

I find it a really interesting task we have. We want to learn to speak the Kovol language like a Kovol person, but at the same time, we actually want to speak differently. The Gospel has never been taught in the Kovol language before and so we’re pioneering a new way of speaking in the language.

Hence I’m working on describing videos of things that are familiar, but with a twist to try and improve. So I’ll try to describe this video again to another group and then show them. I guess I’ll be saying “nim sa” (a piece of tree) for the strips the bow is made from… but it seems so ambiguous! I’m back to wanting to be more descriptive, but that doesn’t seem to be the way to do things!

Millie rocks a hat


Nelvie Herr · 01/06/2023 at 11:30 pm

I find it interesting to see how your computer records(in different colors) what they say. Thankful to see you moving along in the language🙏

    SteveStanley · 02/06/2023 at 12:06 pm

    An advantage of knowing how to do programming is that I can whip up custom software for our team. The culture file we use is an application I wrote and I’m able to put in a lot of Kovol specific features. Getting it to check our writing against our dictionary has been a really useful tool for me to start spelling things more consistently. It’s helping us see quickly where we are spelling words differently and we’re gradully working on a consensus

Lois S. · 02/06/2023 at 12:26 am

I find the language interesting in your friend’s description. I tried to figure things out, but didn’t get too far in the amount of time I put in. My guesses are that hobol means talk, pela means part/piece, and hutee means bow. Maybe egee means tree? and usomb rope?? I tried to figure out whether pigoob was he, but decided against it, partly because it does not appear at all in the third sentence as I read it, and partly because it is used extensively in the first part of the description, but later pigeb seems to be used instead. I noticed that Kovol seems to use a lot of repetition, perhaps for emphasis? I noticed that there were more words in Kovol than in English, so thought maybe adjectives or possessives might be structured differently. Hi/hio seem to be frequent opening prefixes, also pi. Maybe part of verb conjugation? Or maybe pronouns attached to verbs? Anyway, it is interesting to see a bit of the language you are working in. Thanks for sharing! And thanks for all the time you and your team have invested in learning it!

    SteveStanley · 02/06/2023 at 12:02 pm

    You can check out https://dictionary.reachkovol.com/ I’ve just uploaded today’s version of the dictionary (the site is normally there, but doesn’t update automatically). Hobol does mean talk. pela is Tok pisin actually, they use wanpela tupela tripela for numbers usually as Kovol only has 2 cardinal numbers, hutee is the indefinate article “a” and “hem” is bow. nim is “tree” and egee means either will or he did depending on context. rope is simonn, usomb can mean carefully, but I’m not exactly sure what the meaning was here. pigeb and pigoob are both “to put” and the difference seems to be just accent and random variation. There are actually no pronouns in the entire thing.

    So the English was a very loose translation. The Kovol is ver, very repetitive and it makes for bad English. I removed a lot of the repetition and also some of when he was saying the same thing in different ways. I was wondering about hi today. We’ve got it as a prefix right now. pannabigoom means I break something and hipannabigoom means I break something with a knife. “with a knife” is a very strange prefix though and I’m wondering if it is better to split it off as an adverb. We have other words like libinog “quickly” that go there, so maybe hi is the with a knife adverb. It seems a bit weird that right now we only have hi- “with a knife” and too for “peircing” as suffixes and then a bunch of adverbs as seperate words like libinog and egeende “slowly”.

    Pigeb is repeated a lot because when you’re describing a proceedure you usually recapitulate the last action when you start the next one. In English I had that has “having put” and phrases like that.

    You had quite a good look at that, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy browsing our online Kovol dictionary

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