I finished charting my 5th Kovol narrative text this week. The process is getting a bit faster and this was an easy one about Yagil castrating his pig. What strange texts we choose to work on! This one happened to be one spoken in our present tense which is why I chose it. I needed at least one in my corpus so I could prove that narratives aren’t always in the past tense.

Last year I had headed out to find someone for language study and came across Yagil chopping at a banana. I asked him what he was doing and he replied “I’m chopping my pig’s testicles off” which caused me to do a double take, “Sorry, what?”. It turned out he was getting prepared for the procedure (he needed banana fibres for rope) so I stayed to watch and afterwards asked him to tell me about what he’d done.

Working on a text with Max

Present tense may be a misnomer. In Kovol we can say “hoomee pugumum” for “yesterday I sat down” and “su pugugum” for “today I sat down”. One tense is for things that happened in the past yesterday or before, and there’s a tense for things that happened today. We call it present because if you do want to say “I am sitting right now” you would say “pugugum yam”. You add the continuous aspect word “yam” which I guess means you sat for so long it came up to the present.

Thoughts anyone? Should we call it present tense or recent past tense?

Alice cuddles with Mongogam

Anyway, as I work through text number 5 it’s time to start cementing my hypothesis into conclusions. One thing I see for example is that quotes are nearly always followed by “enim” our to-do verb. I say nearly always because I have 1 example where it doesn’t.
To try to explain that, I’m wondering if we could say that direct quotes require the “enim” closer and indirect ones don’t. With only 1 example in my texts, though, it’s just a guess isn’t it? As I was pondering this sitting in my office Semik came by and sat himself down.

Guinea pig action

Naturally, I tried to explain what was on my mind. I had no success trying to explain the ideas of direct and indirect quotes in Kovol. I switched to Tok Pisin and still, I couldn’t get it across. We could agree that in the story we were looking at someone said something.
It’s a very interesting task we’ve got. The methods of signalling direct and indirect speech are things our Kovol friends can’t help us with. They do it, but they’re not able to verbalize to us how they’re doing it. It’s a subconscious skill for them.
Our only way to get at it is to spend long hours pouring over our carefully charted texts looking for clues

While direct and indirect speech remain elusive I think I’m beginning to be able to better describe how to communicate a sequential propositional relationship in Kovol. It seems so basic to answer the question of “How do they say this happened and then this happened?”
My first stab at an answer was to say “Well, they just say one sentence after another”. Doesn’t sound all that linguistic does it?

The boys get some weekend Minecraft time in

The Kovol language tends to chain its verbs. I can say “mena oboogoom” “I got the food” and “libigoom” “I came up”, but the natural way to say that would be to chain it “mena oboob libigoom” “I got the food then came up”. The hard part is figuring out when to chain and when not to chain.
It seemed significant to me that looking at my 5 narrative texts, over 600 propositions I only have a single example of 2 independent sentences next to each other which have a sequential relationship. This was “pigee. om watotoogoom” “she put (it), then I wove it”. Every other sequential relationship, of which there are hundreds because narrative texts are mostly one action after another, shows this chaining. When there is no chaining (apart from the exception above) it’s an equivalent statement, or something else. Hard questions. Aside from how long a chain should be, and where the chain should end it’s an interesting discovery.

groceries being dropped off yesterday

As a language learner, I need thinking time. So sometimes I’ll say that one single action happened and I’ll finish the sentence, with no chaining, as I think on how I’ll say the next thing. That definitely seems to be a pattern I need to break, though, if the thing following is “and then this happened”. Not chaining seems to signal that what I’m saying amplifies, or is equivalent to what I said last. I’m adding information to the last sentence, not moving on. It probably comes across as incredibly unnatural when I end a chain and then talk about something new. The content is obviously intended to be one event after another, but the pattern I’m speaking with suggests the 2nd event more fully describes the 1st.

Tough stuff! And is that idea even right? There’s no one to tell me! I’ll just have to run with it for a while and see if it seems to work.
Now the easy work of charting my 5 narrative texts is done, I need to polish up all those ideas and try to start using them in my speech. That seems much harder than just charting things!
Then it’s on to other genres and more text charting 🙂


Lois S. · 26/08/2023 at 3:08 am

Wow! Constant challenges. I am one who needs gaps even to say what I mean in English, so I can only imagine how difficult it would be to keep chaining in a language I was still learning.

Wim Evers · 31/08/2023 at 1:07 am

What a difficult job you are in! My full respect for you. Blessings!

Leave a Reply