Verbs and Death

Verb Workshop

Shannon recently returned from another trip to the village where she helped with a verb workshop.  In Bantu languages, generally, verbs are known to be able to add suffixes or prefixes or even infixes for different tenses as well as for many other uses.  So, this verb workshop was an attempt to start the process of learning how verbs act and how they can change in this language.  We were able to learn a lot through the participatory workshop and the participants seemed to really grasp the richness and diversity of their language.  It was a productive workshop that also had to be very efficient, as it was cut short by one day due to the funeral of one of the main leaders of the community.  This sad situation was also an occasion for learning, as Shannon attended the wake and burial service.

Final preparations underway, the display and reception area are set up.

Grieving is  often a deeply personal experience in American culture, but in Cameroon, the entire community wails and weeps together.  They stay up throughout the night together; sitting, talking, and even dancing and music are prominent among the activities.  Of course, there is a lot of food too.

Singing and weeping and comforting each other

Laid to rest

I was really struck by the normalcy and injustice of death throughout this trip.  Death is both so wrong, especially when it takes a young person and so normal, in that everyone experiences it.  I appreciated the expressions of grief and the community striving together to make sense of what doesn’t make sense.  And even more, I’m grateful for the eternal life and hope that belong to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and the chance to share that hope with others.

I Corinthians 15:50-57 NIV

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Nouns Done

I (Shannon) just returned from my second village trip to work with the same community on nouns.  Just as French, Italian and Spanish have some similarities as they are related languages, this language also has similarities with related languages.  This is extremely helpful in having an idea of how the grammar of the language might work.  However, even closely related languages are not the same and sometimes there are interesting surprises and variations in the way each language is structured and used.

Participants in the Noun Workshop Part 2

During this workshop, the community make big steps forward in understanding and using their new orthography (alphabet).  They are helping and correcting each other in their writing and seem to fully understand why and how to use the various letters, which are very different from the French system that they have been used to.  They also made  a preliminary decision on the marking of tones.  This language uses tones to distinguish meaning and also for various grammatical functions (ex. a mark of association, like a tree in the forest is denoted only by a high tone), so it is an important part of the language and of the writing system.  Our data at this point shows a fairly even distribution of the high vs low tone across all parts of the language and the community seemed to favor marking the low tone.  Up to this point, we’ve been marking all tones and this step of marking only one tone will help to simplify the writing and reading for the future.

Working on minimal pairs with vowel length and tone

In addition, the noun phrase system was explored and much data gathered for further analysis.  At the end of the week, the participants made charts summarizing all of the information that was gathered about their noun system and the way in which nouns work in their language.  It was good review for everyone and they corrected a few errors which shows that they are really understanding it now.

One part of the noun phrase summary chart

After finalizing the alphabet chart, groups worked on making sentences for each letter which can be made into a primer for literacy classes in the future.  We were also able to collect a few fairytales and many proverbs from the older men in the community.  They were eager to share and this information is extremely helpful in making sure that future translation works are clear, natural, and accurate.

Creating sentences for each letter of the alpahbet

 

 

Back from the Bush

The main village road

Not too long ago, it was required for all expatriate missionaries in our branch to attend what they called “Africa Orientation Course,” which included a 3-week village stay with a family.  With more and more people coming and staying in the city, it didn’t make as much sense.  So, my first visit to the village was to work, and I’m so thankful that it went really well.

I won’t lie.  I was extremely nervous before I left, mostly because I just didn’t know what to expect.  I had been told to bring all our water and that the conditions were “rough” and this from a woman who lives with a Cameroonian family currently and is quite at home in African villages.  Also, I’m terrified (completely and irrationally so, and only a little ashamed to admit it) of cockroaches, which live quite comfortably and abundantly here in the tropics.

Our host family in front of the kitchen

What I found was a welcoming and joyful family and community excited to host us and eager to learn.  They had no running water or electricity or good internet connection, but they had a very clean and warm home where they served us delicious food twice a day (with at least two meat options and a hearty starch as well).  They showed us various parts of their culture and daily life and were excited to teach us a bit about themselves.

Working on adding the plural to noun cards that were collected at the first workshop

I was in this small village a few hours east of Yaoundé with two other linguists to do the second in a series of workshops to help a language community learn about their language and prepare the ground work for literacy and translation work in the future.  We spent most of our time collecting data about nouns and tones, while the participants in the workshop are beginning to grasp that their patois is a real language with a grammar that is very different from the French that they learned in school.  This language has 8 noun classes and some of the markers differ only by tone.  The plural is formed differently for each type of noun and understanding the grammar of their language (which all speakers know intuitively) helps them to appreciate it and also be able to do translation work later.  They are also learning to read and write their heart language as we work on their language together, which they are really excited about.

One evening after dinner, I heard someone teaching two of the women who had been cooking what they learned that day!

I’m so thankful for the way God answered all the prayers prayed on my behalf and that of the workshop.  It was a huge success.

Next time, I’ll be sure to have pants and long-sleeves to avoid the bug bites. 🙂

TAM

Learning about Tense Aspect and Mood (TAM) can be one of the hardest parts of grammar especially in class with a wide variety of African languages.   TAM markers could be different conjugations shown by tone or a different ending, an auxiliary verb, or something else happening with the verb.  These markers can be tricky to identify/distinguish as they vary so greatly between languages and while speakers of a given language know intuitively how to use the different marks of time and duration and reality, they don’t always know how to explain what or why they use different forms in different contexts.

We had a lively TAM discussion in i-Delta complete with several examples from various languages.  Some of these languages have no tenses at all.  Others have at least six different tenses with three different pasts, present and two future tenses.  The examples given in class can really help the students understand how their own languages use TAM. And, also a lighthearted, teasing atmosphere keeps the students engaged throughout the class each day.

Marthe, a woman from Togo, often asks insightful questions and gives good examples from her language, Ewe.  Her use of the name Kofi in her examples has become a running joke in the course.
Here is one example of that.
Kofi ele nu ɗom.
Kofi e-le nu ɗo-m
Kofi 3SG-PROG chose manger-PROG
Kofi est en traine de manger.
Kofi is eating.

Every day we talk about Kofi dancing or Kofi having danced or Kofi going to spit. Kofi gives and follows orders. Kofi has bouts of coughing or Kofi might lick something and be sick. Kofi has brothers and Kofi’s uncle is the chief. Kofi does a lot of things in many languages in our class. There was even a special place for Kofi in some of the final projects.  This is an example from the first section of Marthe’s final project:

Kofi Ƒle azi na kɔdzo.
Koffi acheter-PASS arachide PREP Kodjo
Koffi a acheté l’arachide à Kodjo.
Kofi bought a spider from Kodjo.

Hello, Lizard

Last week, I had to investigate a network problem on the campus.  The school where the boys attend wasn’t able to connect to the rest of the campus network.  There are little boxes with networking equipment attached to various buildings and inside random offices, so my first order of business was to check that all the cables were still attached and the network equipment was operating correctly.

So I make my way over to school — it’s a short 5 minute walk.  I find the network cupboard and I open it.  The inside looks like this:

Immediately a small lizard starts running around inside scared that his hiding place has been discovered and there is a human at his obvious exit point.  Eventually, I am able to shoo it away and I can begin to continue my investigation.

Watch out for lizards, folks.