I got back to Ngukurr on Sunday. I actually felt like a real adventurer going deep into the wilds. I had to drive 40kms down a very soggy and muddy unsealed road until I got to 4mile boat ramp, on a very swollen Roper River. From there, a boat made the 1 hour trip up the Roper to get me and take me back to Ngukurr. And now I'm here, and I could be here for a couple of months because the roads will be cut for quite a while. So yes, I feel a bit like I'm in wild depths of Australia. (But not really, because this place is far from foreign for me now).
So I'm straight back into work. The last few weeks, some of the language mob have been working with another lady. She's not a qualified linguist, but it was good to have her around to keep things moving along in my absence. And so the language mob had to work a bit more independently. Their task was to make a book about bush medicine. And they did a great job. R and A wrote short stories for about 10 bush medicines, and F and B did the same for Marra. They did all the writing themselves and did the best they could, and they actually did really well.
However, they did get stuck with not knowing how to spell quite a few words. They decided to have a go anyway, and then wait for me to help straighten it out. And so that's what we've been doing since I got back.
But it's felt a bit funny. Really, these guys have done great work to do as much as they have and their writing is actually really good. Mistakes are inevitable. But it's felt funny to have me come in and 'correct' their work. Firstly, it feels a bit like I'm coming in saying they've done it wrong, when their work is good and they should be really proud of what they've done. Consequently, doing these corrections has made it very clear how prescriptivist linguists can be. I feel like I've come in saying: 'I know the orthography, I know the way things should be spelled, and I'm going to change how you've written your language'. It feels strange.
But I don't know how it can be different. I mean, the language mob put me in the 'expert' position themselves and they want me to make sure it's right. (But I'm still concerned that it's disempowering). And I also think that they would like to improve their skills and learn more from me, so I don't think what I'm doing is a bad thing. All the corrections I'm doing are with the language workers. I guess the worse scenario is to go off and do it all myself without them - somehow this would be easier though, in that I probably wouldn't realise how prescreptivist I'm being. But when I'm doing it in front of the language workers, it's plain as day.
Does anybody out there have any similar experiences... like a linguist working on a bilingual school program... does the linguist always end up having the final say on spelling when producing materials? (I guess that depends on the skills of the blekbala linguists too...)