Thursday, May 28, 2015

What Does Beautiful Look Like to You?

It's been ten years since I've experienced spring in the Northwest, and I have magically escaped the April showers and vicariously "smelled" the flowers through pictures friends share on social media. While most would agree springtime flowers are pleasing to the eye, as a linguist I find things like suffixes, phonological rules, and grammar charts equally beautiful!

Most Bible translation projects involve, in addition to translated portions of Scripture:
  1. A dictionary
  2. Literacy materials
  3. A descriptive grammar (an explanation of the structure of words, sentences, and texts)

A few years ago I began encountering perplexing questions while trying to learn the Garífuna language, and this prompted me to use my linguistics background to seek explanations. I shared some of my discoveries with the couple who had coordinated the translation project, and they encouraged me to work toward the last missing piece in the Garífuna project: a description of the grammar. Although linguists have published articles on specific aspects of the language, a more complete description has been lacking.

With Fernando's help, I began researching and documenting everything I could. It might sound funny, but some of those "a-ha" moments were full of praise to God in response to suddenly understanding complex structures that make this language unique and reflect its history. Although I'm still far from fluent, what used to seem like a chaotic jumble is now an awe-inspiring system I'm able to assimilate and use a little more easily.

Eventually, though, I needed others' expertise and feedback in order to actually produce something concrete with what I'd documented. Through mutual contacts, I began to correspond with a consultant who helps linguists produce descriptive grammars for Bible translation projects. He has provided feedback and showed me how to work with software programs designed to create grammar papers. His patience, willingness, encouragement, and expertise have been invaluable!

My goals are:
  • To make steady progress as I'm able (instead of rushing to publish), depending on time I have available.
  • To share the beauty of the language, as it is one of thousands that are less documented and at risk of extinction in the future.
  • Most importantly, to offer a framework for designing pedagogical materials for those interested in preserving the language or for Garífunas who have not had the opportunity to learn the language as their mother tongue.
Of course, I also hope to draw this foundation in my own language learning in the future.

Each of us finds beauty in the countless areas of life God has generously given us to enjoy and use for His glory. Timely feedback, gracious instruction, linguistics software, "crazy" verbs -- this is what beautiful looks like to me!

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