The last post was fairly exciting with all that talk of deadly snakes, which leaves this week’s post feeling a bit anti-climatic because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the office.
As language learners, time spent working on our computers processing language material is necessary, but we make sure it’s not the only thing we do. With that in mind Monday’s plan was for a hike out to Kumus, a village about an hour and a half away. I don’t look forward to these big hikes that much, but whenever I do them it’s very refreshing to get away from the 4 walls of our house and experience the rainforest. We are in the “big bush”, as we say in the Kovol language. We are in a remote patch of rainforest, yet it’s so easy to get into the mindset of just grinding out the language learning hours week after week and failing to take it in. I can easily end up seeing the 4 walls of my office all the time and missing the whole rainforest thing.
On our hike over I tried to pay attention to the environment more, and I did start to appreciate again the beauty of where we are. As we were hiking a group of hornbills flew over the canopy making their odd grunting, a swooshing noise that they do. Rhett commented that birdwatchers would probably be pretty excited about it all 😀 For us, it’s become just normal jungle noise.
The reason for the hike over was an invitation to check out the new community chainsaw. A government development grant provided 5 chainsaw-and-milling kits to our area, with our ward (the Kovol villages) receiving one. Our guys didn’t know how to put it together and use it, however, so we hiked over to take a look. They’ve gotten their hands on quite a powerful tool, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any fuel to run it.
We assembled their mill for them and had a look, but there wasn’t much to do without fuel. Seeing as we were there we were presented with a few medical cases as well, including a tropical ulcer. We offered what advice we could. They certainly look terrible!
I’ve spent the rest of the week conducting culture interviews, processing the results, writing up findings and chipping away at discourse analysis.
This week for culture I’ve been getting some broad brushstroke information on birthright and inheritance as one of my investigations. What is passed on and to whom? Is there an idea of the rights of the firstborn? What do adopted children inherit? It’s made for some interesting discussions.
The big idea for the Kovol people is that the trails my father hiked, I will hike also. Land is passed on from father to son, and it isn’t split up. The sons share the land and have equal ownership of it. Daughters marry into other clans and villages, so it’s the sons who get the inheritance because they stay around. Fathers do plant betel nut trees and bamboo for their children individually though. When a son is born the father plants bamboo for him so that by the time the son grows up and is ready to build his first house there is bamboo for him to use. Ideally, each son gets the same number of trees. They don’t have a preference towards the firstborn, but there is the practical consideration that by the time it comes to the 6th son the father might be tired of planting 😀
I think I got an answer about how it works for adopted children too, but thinking back on it I’m not sure of the vocabulary I was using. Children in Kovol can be both given away (like if a brother is childless, and you have too many, you can give a newborn to them) or orphaned (due to violence) and I’m not sure exactly which of those situations my “child who is looked after” phrase corresponds to. I’ll need to remember to come back to this once I’ve studied adoption and nailed down the vocabulary and practises more accurately. Such is the way with language learning: round and round in circles!
In a bit of good news, after a push this week I’ve finished my discourse analysis studies. I finished charting my final (12th) text and was able to write up what I learned about how hortatory texts (speeches aimed to convince people of something) work in the Kovol language. I say I’ve finished; what I mean is I’m finished for now. I’ve spent 185 hours in total on this project and I’ve met the goal set for me by leadership, and I’ve also hit intense diminishing returns. I’ve been putting in long hours of charting, and figuring out how propositions relate, but I couldn’t tell you a takeaway lesson from it all. Languages are insanely complicated when you get to paragraph level and trying to linguistically define and describe what’s going on is very hard! There’s infinite variety, and multiple ways to say things and the best we find are some tendencies that can guide us towards “how it’s done”. After finding the low-hanging fruit (conclusions I could easily make about the language) I’ve been finding a lot of “he says it like this, but he doesn’t” type of situations and I’m not sure if I’m seeing something the Kovol language does, or something this particular speaker I’m looking at does on this occasion.
I’m very glad to be done for now. When Philip, Natalie and Rhett get around to reviewing what I’ve written and adding their insights I’m hoping that together we’ll be able to get a bit more clarity. I’ve learned a few things, but I’m confused about a lot more. How you mark theme and background is still a mystery to me in the Kovol language. There’s no difference in the grammar and no unique marks to distinguish the two, it seems completely defined by content and it’s still a bit of a guess to me sometimes which one is which. As I tell my own stories then and seek to communicate well I don’t have something I can think about that will help me to keep the main point the main point. It feels like quite a failure after spending all those hours disecting those texts not io be able to figure out how to do such a critical thing.
When it comes to discourse analysis I feel a lot like I just limped over the finish line and now I’m looking back and wondering how beneficial it all was. I learned a lot in my first 50 hours, and it’s tapered off a lot since then. Well, it’s good that it’s done, and it should mean that next week less time needs to be spent in the office. Hmm, I should probably write next week’s blog post midweek so I still have some energy and enthusiasm left. What a downer!