Discovering the intricacies of language in Papua New Guinea

A team of participants presents the day’s findings during a recent Discover Your Language Course at the Ukarumpa Training Centre in Papua New Guinea.

(January 2014) Mother tongue speakers of a language may converse, joke or compose poetry with ease, but few of us have actually analyzed the structures we intuitively use. For language development practitioners, the opportunity to study the grammatical structures of their own language can provide insights which contribute to the quality of the work they produce—whether that work is a reading primer for literacy students or a translation of health materials or Scripture.

SIL PNG recently hosted a Discover Your Language course at the Ukarumpa Training Centre in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Eighteen participants from twelve language communities came to Ukarumpa for the four-week course. Participants and mentors devoted nearly 150 hours to linguistic analysis and drafting grammars for their languages, several of which had not previously been described by linguists. Participants collected texts during the course and entered them into a FLEx database, which they used to investigate the natural structure of their languages.

At the end of each day a participant from each team made a short presentation on what the group had learned that day, highlighting unique features of that particular language. With more than 830 living languages, Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations.

Above: a mentor and participant work together on grammatical analysis; entering data into FLEx.

Participant comments:

It is just like we are digging deep inside to find the treasure hidden under the ground. Once again I thank God for our hardworking teachers and mentors for helping us to dig inside our own language and discover the riches.
- Gabriel Ikamu, Tairuma language community, Gulf Province

[The course has] given me more understanding to do my translation work without any doubt.
- Robert Eko, Angaataaha language community, Morobe Province

I will be respected by my fellow translators and the community as well, and after this course, I feel I know more about our language.
- Titus Gamudze, Guhu-Samane language community, Morobe Province

When I go home I will apply everything I have been taught, so I believe I will do a good translation.
- Mambu Aki, Amam language community, Morobe Province

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