February 17, 2006

something satisfying

Last year I blogged about giving some of the language workers here spelling tests. Well, I’ve continued doing some work with two of the language workers trying to explicitly teach them about writing down their language, Rembarrnga (which doesn’t have a completely straightforward spelling system). I made them a big syllable chart and have been giving them tests on writing down just syllables. Then I’ve been giving the spelling tests, writing down some simple words. It’s pretty amazing. Really, these two are still at a pretty low level, but they’re learning. They’re thinking about breaking words down into syllables now. And they seem to actually enjoy doing the work. But the coolest thing is that yesterday after giving them a syllable spelling test and a word spelling test, they sat there and kept practising on other words and even sentences. For instance, my mami R, she wanted to write down this sentence:

Re-ngœnœ nga-nguna (I’m going to eat my meat, which sounds better in Kriol: ai garra dagat main bip)

She got stuck on ‘ngœnœ’ but got the rest right, working out how to spell ‘nguna’ with the syllable chart.

It’s the little things like this that make this job satisfying.

Unlike being hung-up on by someone who does an important job in the community, which also happened to me yesterday.


Catalin said...

The syllable is a great idea! Good work! Helping people acquire those skills is really excellent. And for them to realise that they can now (or will be able to) write anything they want in language--that's super cool. Phonetic orthography sure beats the hell out of English, doesn't it?


bulanjdjan said...

You make a good point Catalin. Once you've learned a phonological/phentic orthography, it's so much more easily applied in other language documentation efforts (especially compared to English: just look at the botched job that Englsih speakers do trying to write Indigenous language words: they don't have a useful frame of reference for recording human speech sounds). I was working with language workers in the Pilbara recently, most of whom had gained literacy in one of the dominant languages of the area (Nyangumarta, Yindjibarndi), and were able to use those skills in doing documentation of their own (more endangered) languages. Of course, it helps if the language you're extending your orthographic skills to has the same if not very similar phonemic inventory. If not, it's just a hop-step-and-jump to the IPA!