Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Out of Ateso, into Ik

After more than six weeks in Kampala, tomorrow morning we plan to head back north to Kaabong and then Timu on Thursday. Miraculously, we adjusted fairly well to life in Kampala; even now, life in Timu seems like a world away (it is, in a couple of ways). But we are more than ready to get home!

The four-week orthography review workshop ended a little more than a week ago. The last week was more intense because the Ateso group had to make some important decisions on how to write their language. Up to that point, we could just discuss things but then push the decisions off. For example, in Ateso, present and past tenses are distinguished only by tone. A phrase like aduki eong can mean either 'I am building' or 'I was building', depending on the tones. For this issue, the group decided to write one tone accent on one syllable in the past tense, as in adukí eong 'I was building'. As another example, like Ik, Ateso has something called 'shadow vowels'. These are vowel sounds that are reduced slightly, sometimes just whispered, at the end of words. Up to now, these shadow vowels had never been written. But in some cases, they add meaning to a word. For example, the word agogong means 'I am strong', but agogongᶸ means 'strength'. And while kodok means 'climb!', kodukᶸ means 'climb this way!'  As you can see, the Ateso chose to write shadow vowels with a small raised vowel. This is a new, unprecedented way to write shadow vowels, and it remains to be seen whether it will be accepted.

Making a writing system involves three distinct and often conflicting factors: 1) linguistics, 2) acceptability, and 3) pedagogy. A good writing system is based on a scientific study of a language's sound system and basic grammar. But it must also be acceptable to the people speaking the language. For example, we had made a decision with the group to write /i/ as /y/ in certain environments. But the decision was rejected later because they didn't like how many /y/'s were appearing in their texts. That has to do with the visual appearance of the writing. Then the third issue is pedagogy. The writing system, no matter how linguistically sound and socially acceptable, must also be teachable. During the month-long workshop, these three factors often come into conflict. In fact, orthography development involves quite a lot of compromise. The simple truth is that the Roman alphabet was not designed for African languages. It can work, but it also needs 'work arounds'.

After the final, albeit tentative, decisions were made, we had a little farewell party. Amber and the girls came into the office and got to meet the Ateso group. It was great fun, especially since in the group there were women named Immaculate and Mercy (like our girls). They were kind enough to even buy us a couple of gifts. What a wonderful bunch of people they are! Left to right (top, then bottom, not counting our girls): Connie, our workshop leader from the Netherlands, Terrill, Amber, Mercy, Immaculate, Mary, Joseph, Alex, Clement, Scovia, Simon Peter, Kellen, and Martin:

It was such a blessing for me to have them as my group since I was also learning on the job. They were kind and patient with me. They learned some linguistics and gained some explicit knowledge of their language. I learned some of their language and lot about the 'group participatory' method of language research and development.

Looking back over these weeks, what I remember is not so much the difficult stuff (smog, heat, long taxi rides, long hours at the workshop, worrying about Amber with the kids, etc.) but more how God sustained us throughout. I really believe he extended grace to both of us: me having to really step outside my comfort zone work-wise, and Amber having to spend a huge amount of time with Janet and Lemu, often alone. We obviously both had rough days, but the Lord helped us through it all. And it was worth it. The Teso people have a newly revised writing system that hopefully will 'SHARPen' their literacy, authorship, and education for decades to come. I gained valuable experience and made good money (which is channeled back into SIL's work). Amber made quite a few new friends in Kampala, many of which are also adopting Ugandan children. And the girls grew in many ways...

Their English has grown amazingly fast. Just this afternoon I heard them jabbering away to each other in very American English. Janet used the hypothetical mood for the first time, as in "It would be funny if...". We see their little personalities coming out more and more as they learn how to express themselves. They've grown considerably in their swimming abilities. Janet can now swim around the deep end without any flotation devices! Lemu isn't far behind her. And they've also grown spiritually. In addition to asking Jesus into their lives a few weeks ago, they've enjoyed attending Sunday School for about four Sundays in a row. (They've also grown a bit horizontally, thanks to the cheese, yogurt, and other Kampala delicacies).

As we head back to Ikland, we look forward to reconnecting with our Ik neighbors and focusing our energies a little closer to 'home'. I am planning to hold a similar, mini-version of the orthography workshop with an Ik group. We already have a writing system for the Ik, but only I and one other Ik have used it consistently. It's time to bring more people on board, get them trained, and get them writing. Then, in the first week of April, a small team of South Africans are planning to come to hold a three-day training on 'Farming God's Way', which is a farming method that involves not tilling the soil, mulching heavily, and using other less ecologically disruptive agricultural strategies. Then in May, my brother Chad and sister Laura are planning to come for a visit! And so we expect a busy but fulfilling few months to come.

We appreciate your prayers for the following: 1) Safety as we drive the long 400-plus miles, 2) Re-adjustment to life in Timu, 3) the Ik orthography workshop, 4) caring well for Janet and Lemu, 5) renewal of our work permits, 6) a court date for legal guardianship, 7) physical energy, 8) rain, 9) and 10) security (more guns are flowing into the area). As always, we're grateful for your thoughts, prayers, notes, emails, etc.


Notinthewild said...

Congratulations and congratulations on doing so much ground-breaking linguistic work in so little time.
And speaking of linguistic work...my heart gave a little flip to hear Janet used the hypothetical tense! Those girls are growing up so fast!

The Reeds said...

Oh friends, we will be praying for these ten things so much. I am praying right now as I imagine you are starting your journey already or are already well on your way. I love that the girls have grown horizontally. :) And all of the linguistics info. is truly interesting. We value your work so much and love you too. We miss you guys (which sounds crazy to say- but it's true).
Much love from us,

Anonymous said...

My! What a lot of accomplishments in such a short time! We will be praying for rain, safety, efficient work with your language team, and the South African ag team. I hope they bring seed and that their methods become common among the Ik.