Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beautiful Sounds

Recently I had the chance to combine several of my favorite things: phonetics (the study of the sounds of languages) + Garífuna language + teaching. The OneStory workshop we have helped with includes a one-week module about language learning. The facilitator offered the course in English to a missionary family who feel called to serve in Garífuna communities and would like to learn the language. The following week, the same material was offered in Spanish to the OneStory participants, who will spend the next few weeks in a Garífuna community to apply what they learned about language learning.

I was invited to share about sounds of the Garífuna language. Here is a little snapshot for those who might find it interesting:

These are the consonants in Garífuna that sound like English sounds:

b as in 'boy'
ch as in 'child'
d as in 'dog'
f as in 'fun'
g as in 'girl'
h as in 'hand'
m as in 'man'
n as in 'nap' (one of my favorite words these days, as some of you might understand)
s as in 'sun'
w as in 'win'
y as in 'yes'

These consonants sound more like Spanish:

k as in 'coco' ('coconut'): it's a softer, unaspirated 'k'
l as in 'lata' ('can'): it's a lighter-sounding 'l' in which only the tip of the tongue is used, unlike the English sound of 'dull' where the back of the tongue is also raised
p as in 'poco' ('a little'): softer, unaspirated, like 'k'
r as in 'pero' ('but'), but never 'rr' as in 'perro' ('dog')
t as in 'taco': softer, unaspirated, like 'k' and 'p'

This consonant is not found in either English or Spanish: ñ. It is like a blend of the English 'y' and Spanish 'ñ'; it's like saying a nasalized 'y' or saying the Spanish 'ñ' without letting the top of your tongue touch the hard palate.

These vowels are like Spanish: a, e, i, o, u. A sixth vowel, ü, is unlike either English or Spanish. It is like trying to say 'ooooo' (or the Spanish 'u') with a smile instead of rounded lips. Any of these six vowels can be nasalized or lengthened. This six-vowel system with lengthening and nasalization is common in Amerindian languages.

As for prosodic features (musical characteristics), syllable stress is important for differentiating meaning. For example: 'agüragua' (first syllable stressed) means 'to bite' and 'agüragua' (second syllable stressed) means 'to tie up.' Also, intonation tends to be falling, or descending, even with questions.

While phonetics may be fun for some of us, the goal of linguistics and language learning is to communicate in the heart language of people for the Lord's work. If you think of it, pray for this missionary family, for the OneStory participants, and also for me to push on in language learning and remember why it is important. Thank you, and if you have questions you can post them in the comment section below!

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