Almost two years ago Amber and I made our first fieldtrip to document the Nyang'ia language. That time we collected about 150 words from an old man who we were told was one of two surviving speakers of the language. Since then I've been meaning to get back to continue the research, so a few weeks ago between coming back to Kaabong from furlough and moving up to Timu, we decided to make another trip. This time we stayed for two days and found five speakers of the language. All are very old, and when they pass, the language will be officially extinct. We managed to collect about a hundred more words and several hours of audio and video recordings.
The man below is named Ongor Tongome. He was the first speaker we talked to. When we asked him how old he was, he didn't know, but he said he was born during the 'world war'. Which one, I wonder? He said it was before 'motorcars' came to Uganda. Tongome was very welcoming and worked with us for a couple of hours but then got tired.
The next speaker was met with was Naira Chilla, the woman pictured below. She was seated in the dirt out in the hot, hot sun. My laptop and other electronic equipment didn't work so well in the heat. Neither did we, come to think of it. Naira was happy to share her knowledge of old Nyang'ia with us, but she grew confused quickly.
The two handsome gentlemen pictured below are named Lokwang Chilla and Komol Isaach. They were sharp and worked well together by prompting each other. We were on a great roll collecting Nyang'ia words but were interrupted by a rainstorm.
Everywhere you go in Uganda, children are wonderfully friendly. These Nyang'ia kids in Lobalangit were no exception. Here's Amber posing with a group.
This was the last data-gathering session we had, before the rainstorm. We needed to get back to the Catholic guesthouse in Karenga before the roads got impassable.
We wanted to get a record of the language before it dies out, not only for science and posterity, but because Nyang'ia is one of only two languages closely related to Ik. The third, Soo/Tepeth, spoken in three spots in southern Karamoja, is also on the brink of exctinction. Most likely, in the next 10-20 years, Ik will become the proverbial last of its kind. When Nyang'ia and Soo/Tepeth are lost, whole systems of knowledge and unique ways of seeing the world will be lost with them.
Happily, a linguist friend of ours is applying for a grant that would enable him to come this summer and spend 4-6 weeks trying to document and describe as much of the language as possible. With all we have going on travelling and among the Ik, I had decided, sadly, that I wouldn't pursue the Nyang'ia project further. But if someone else can come to help, that would be great!