Monday, 14 May 2012


This week has seen the start of Module 22 of VITAL (Vernacular Initiative for Translation and Literacy). This means that eleven language groups from around Milne Bay have sent a team to Alotau to live, study and work on translation and literacy for four weeks. We started a day late as Kwadima II only got in with the participants early on Monday. They were all looking rather tired after their journey in, so we delayed our start till Tuesday. Even when I'm working on land in linguistics, my life still manages to be shaped by maritime matters!

Each day at VITAL moves between community times and team times. In the community times we first gather to sing, pray and study the Bible. This is followed by a time of language discovery, or looking at how to map the grammar and discourse patterns in the language of the participants. After a break for breakfast groups head to their cubicles. These are small study rooms, although we managed to have six people in ours today. It was getting a bit cosy, but the fan kept us cool. In the cubicles the teams work on their grammar and then do an advisor check of work from a few days earlier. The work is given two days to settle before the advisor check so that the team can look at it with fresh eyes and ears. This work takes the teams through until lunch.

After lunch we once more gather as a community for an exegetical session. Together we read through the text of the day in several versions, noting problem areas and discussing how best to translate them. Sometimes this means discussing history and politics (How big was Jerusalem when David was king? How big was it when Solomon was king? What is a king?). Other times it means teasing out concepts such as being overwhelmed and how that might be said in language. One of my favourites is discussing euphemisms. These are the salt that add flavour to what some would consider boring historical accounts. What does it mean that 'David slept with his ancestors' and how do we say something politely in language? I was amused by the Anuki term 'road women' to mean 'prostitutes'. From the exegetical session the community breaks into small groups again as the teams work on their first draft of the text we have just discussed. 

It is good to see the centre so busy and to see the commitment the teams have to their work. Most of them continue drafting into the evening so that they can get the portion complete before the next day. This is no rush job, but a lot of time and effort is being put into the work being done. 

In case you're wondering why we're discussing prostitutes, check 1 Kings 3:16ff.

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