This week has been a weird mix of break-like activities and lots of hard work. We left Kovol last week to attend a 2-week advanced language workshop ALW. Philip, Natalie and myself (Steve) have been in classes all day long with a linguistic consultant with the goal of understanding better how the Kovol language arranges and glues together stories.

as we head out of Kovol a new washing machine for the Hansen family was being airlifted in!

Mornings have been taken up with PowerPoint covering the “10 things people do when they communicate”, which are:
• Adjust to the situation
• Always have a purpose
• Organize what we say
• Monitor the hearer
• Talk in “chunks”: paragraphing/boundaries
• “Glue” thoughts together: cohesion
• Identify/mark what’s important: prominence/theme/background
• Keep track of participants
• Make clear “who said what”: quotes, quotes within quotes
• Add spice!: figurative speech

Our class

Each of those is a broad principle that can be applied in different ways, but we’re looking for how all that is done in Kovol. Taking each in turn, we’re hearing about how other languages do that and then in the afternoons, we’re looking at a Kovol story.
We’ve chosen a story about how some visitors stole some vanilla once, long ago. A brief paraphrase is this:

“A while ago in vanilla season some people came and they asked for directions. Ruth gave them directions and they went up, but they were lying. They hid in the bushes, came and went and wandered around aimlessly. They came to Hogumam and asked for the road and we told them again, and they followed it, but they just wandered around. Alias and Yoogooboo went with them and gave them betel nut and ate with them. Afterwards, they stole my bow which I had left out and stole vanilla from Gusubonn and Yogooboo’s vanilla vines. They headed over to Ingis village and came in the evening and stole all the vanilla they had left out while they were all inside sleeping. Then they scattered. Just now some new people have come and they’re behaving just like those guys did long ago. They’re the same and so we’re talking about them and thinking that they are also thieves.”

charting out the vanilla story

The first job for us is to chart this story. We have broken it up into one proposition per line and we’re going through and labelling tenses, actors, theme and non-theme, and changes in time, location and event. Tomorrow and Friday we’ll be charting how all the propositions relate to each other. Lots of work in charting! The real work then, though, is to look at this heavily annotated story and take one of the 10 things, “glue” for example. How are the different events glued together?
We’ve known for a long time that the right way to do this is to be very sparing with pronouns. After introducing someone to the story, it’s more natural to refer to them only by using affixes on our verbs. The subject becomes implicit and the glue is the string of verbs conjugated in a way that says “the same guy is doing this” and if the action switches to another actor, we use a switch reference on the verb.
We’ve known that for a while, but now we’ll be charting it in 10+ texts and formally writing hypotheses.

Mornings in Goroka

Something new we noticed is that the story’s climax “speeds up”. There’s lots of repetition early on, but when it comes to the climax of the vanilla being stolen there’s hardly any repetition and the rate of new information increases. Let’s see if that’s a pattern which holds in other stories. If it is then I’ve been doing it wrongly because instinctively I slowed down at a story climax and tried to be more descriptive. To my mind that was trying to put the most time and emphasis on the climax, but that might actually have been highlighting it as a background item… hmmm….
Alongside that for glue in this story, we see paragraphs glued together with dependent clauses. My instinct has always been to use an independent clause to finish a paragraph, finishing it before moving on. This story however has a dependent clause as the final clause of the paragraph, making it link and depend on the following clause, which might be adding that glue and flow to the story. This is only our first story; we have to see if that’s the case all the time, and if so, start doing it ourselves!

working on language makes you sleepy

Meanwhile, Gerdine is busy keeping Oscar, Alice and Millie entertained who are enjoying a break from school and some different scenery. We enjoyed the weekend off out in town, which meant swimming at the resort and eating fast food:) Oscar left his very special teddy in the cafe we ate in! 🙁 He takes his teddy Barry everywhere and he went into the cafe, but at bedtime, we realised he was still there! It was a sad evening, but we went back the next day and rushed to the cafe to find Barry there waiting for us 🙂 That was a special moment for Oscar. Getting Barry back and then swimming and eating pizza made his day 🙂 Even though I’m in class all day long Gerdine and the kids are still having a good time. The trampoline here where we are staying is a major highlight 🙂

So we’re about halfway through our workshop. It’s pretty tiring and I’m looking forward to the half week we have off before returning to Kovol. In the meantime, I’m still hoping for a Eureka moment that unlocks the secrets of speaking the Kovol language for me 🙂

1 Comment

Mandy · 21/07/2023 at 5:54 pm

Phew! I get tired just reading what your brain does!!! Praying for a eureka, and contentment if it doesn’t happen…… we just had graduation- lots of goodbyes. Plus Sybille is here- and Ania and Jan Peter 🙂

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