Sunday, November 22, 2009

Recap of Ik Dictionary Project


After working four weeks with Philip Nayaon, and six weeks working with a team of eleven Ik men, I am happy to report that the dictionary word-collecting workshop is successfully over! The gross word count by the end was 11,707 words. The net amount, after cleaning up duplicates, will probably be between 6,000-8,000. Considering that some English dictionaries have up to 300,000 entries, you may wonder why we collected so few words for Ik. Is Ik an inferior language? A primitive language? The fact is, in natural situations, languages are as big as they need to be. English, and other languages with very long histories of literature, have layer upon layer of words built up over the centuries. In an oral culture like Ik, the number of words existing at any point in history is just the sum total of words in the heads of two, maybe three, generations of people. People can't keep 300,000 words in their heads, but they may be able to manage 50,000. I still don't know why we couldn't get more words for Ik, but maybe they just haven't needed more to handle their relationships with each other and the environment. Whatever the case, we are happy to have collected what we did, and we're very grateful to Ron & Beth Moe for giving three months of their lives to help us do so.

Not only is dictionary making an important part of language development in its own right, but the words we collected will also serve as a foundation for translating Scripture. Normally, putting a dictionary together takes many years. But thanks to Ron Moe's Dictionary Development Process (DDP), the initial word gathering time is shortened to weeks instead of years. Of course, it will take a lot more work to clean up the data and write good definitions, so it will be a while before a dictionary can really be published. Until then, we can use the version on our computer.

The Ik men and women who got involved in this project benefitted by having jobs for a few weeks, by having others interested in their language and culture, and by receiving a few perks, like cheap healthcare from Amber! We benefitted by getting to know many new friends in the community, adjusting to living in Timu, making progress toward our work goals, and learning LOTS about the Ik language and culture. It was a grueling 10 weeks, no doubt, and we are ready for a break. When we come back in March of next year, we'll be exited to move back into the community and pick up where we left off. Until then, ngo ebaikw, zek'oyu marangitik (our friends, stay well)!!