July 11, 2010

spreading more ELAN love

Well, today was looking like a quiet Sunday in Ngukurr, working on my own processing some of the Marra recordings. Well, that's what I did in the morning, but after lunch, I thought I better go visit one of the old Marra ladies who I haven't had much of a chance to sit down with yet. Unfortunately, I couldn't find her, so instead I went to JJ's house and suggested I show the young women hanging around with not much to do (it's Sunday) a bit about processing language recordings using the ELAN program. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but much to my surprise, the exercise caught on! So, I've just spent about 3 hours teaching two young women, with JJ there for support and supervision, how to transcribe recordings using ELAN. How fun! And they enjoyed it too!

This isn't the first time I've shown community language workers how to use ELAN (you can read a blogpost about a previous time here). Each time I've trained people on ELAN, it's been pretty much a raging success - very satisfying for me and satisfying for those learning. The girls I taught today picked it up very quickly and after 20 minutes, all they needed help with was a bit of Kriol spelling. There's something about ELAN that captures my 'students' attention - is it that they get to focus on a computer and the recording and not have to listen to a teacher drone away in English? They also get to have a giggle at the recording at any mistakes or funny things they say. Today, the girls just seemed to engage with it and happily spent a couple of hours working through a Kriol recording. I was quite pleased and surprised that this happened - especially as it was done so informally - on the verandah surrounded by dogs, TV on in the background, people constantly coming and going (and checking out what was going on too). What a productive way to spend my quiet Sunday afternoon!

What was also nice is that I learned a few more things about Kriol today. Which was nice, because it wasn't so much that there was anything in the recording I didn't understand, but rather by talking about some of the words with JJ and the girls and noticing their questions. For example (warning: linguist-talk follows...), the old lady talking on the recording, used the word gija a couple of times which is some sort of reciprocal/reflexive. The only other reciprocal/reflexive in Kriol is mijel. Much to my surprise, the young women unquestioningly wanted to transcribe gija as gijal. Young people say gijal! Who knew! We were all surprised at the young/old variation and I reckon that young people have changed gija to gijal to make it closer to mijel.

Another thing I noticed is the word usually written as thei in Kriol (from the English "they"): the girls asked if they should transcribe thei bin (they were) as thebin - one word, no diphthong. What a nice contraction - I never would've noticed it before and interesting that their instinct was to write it that way.

And they wrote the Kriol for "there" as ja - which is such a Ngukurr Kriol thing. The standard form is jeya or deya but no, it is so clearly ja here.

What I also liked about this exercise and ELAN in general is that it develops literacy skills really nicely - as long as you have some foundation to start from. They girls had some ideas on Kriol spelling but when you start transcribing and keep getting the same words, you really start to develop literacy skills. And I totally noticed how easy it was for them to engage in developing Kriol literacy - most likely because it's their first language (hello bilingual education?!) and because the spelling system is consistent (unlike English).

So that's my story of my surprising, impromptu, sitting-on-the-verandah-with-nothing-better-to-do, ELAN training session on a Sunday afternoon. :-)

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