Friday, 8 April 2016

Village English

In the area of Papua New Guinea that was the British and then Australian ‘Territory of Papua’, English is mostly used as a language of wider communication (LWC). Tok Pisin was the main LWC in the Territory of New Guinea and is slowly gaining in use in the Papuan area. Hiri Motu is also a traditional LWC in my area, although it is being used less often these days.

English as the LWC can be deceptive though, as ESL (English as your sixth language) English is different to mother tongue English. I cannot think ‘Oh, people here know English, I can just speak as normal’, or they will not understand much of what I say.

 Is that when the kid behind you in class cuts
your hair when you’re not looking?!
Village English is slower, simpler, and uses few idioms or passive clauses. Changing my natural way of speaking, to another dialect of my own language, can be quite challenging at times. It can also be quite amusing, as village English has developed in different ways to the English I am most familiar with, and the contrasts can be amusing and confusing.

‘Already’ in used liberally as a marker of an event that has been completed (perfective aspect). Although this is similar to how I grew up using the word, it is used with noticeable frequency in village English. What I am learning from this is when to use the equivalent structure (‘tauo ….VERB ROOT ….maka’) in Kope. How people use English reflects their own language, so can be helpful in learning language.

‘Maybe’ is used to mark uncertainty (irrealis mode) and is a very handy word. It is a helpful way of expressing possibilities without being committed. I’m still working out how to say the same in Kope though.

 What if I have two?
There are the words that are fossilised from another era of English, the era when Australian and British teachers ran the school system. I always smile when told to look out for ‘faeces’ on the path, or that the canoe has pulled over to the riverbank so that someone can go behind a bush to ‘pass urine’. These are legitimate English expressions, just not the ones I’d normally use.

Many people have expressed a desire for more overseas teachers to help train and improve the education system here, a return to the days when they learnt to say ‘faeces’. I agreed the day I asked a grade eight after his English exam how the exam went, and he stared at me blankly. I guessed from that response that he did not do very well, an assumption justified when he later failed to pass grade eight. Considering English has been the language of instruction for him at school, it saddened me that he still struggled with it so much.

There are surprising uses of words in village English, where at first I take the wrong meaning. I thought someone in a story was being executed, when in fact they were executing (carrying out) some action or other. There are other things I wish I had written down, but it was not appropriate to do so at the time.
 Defenestration Prohibited.
I like the literal description of a door for the wind to enter by.
One word that I am often unsure of is what it means to ‘beat’ something. In my English I have a range of words to express the intensity with which I hit something, from a smack all the way to a beating. To me, beating something is a violent, damaging act, but I think in village English that it is often used the cover the whole range of intensities of hitting. What does it mean then, when a woman says her husband ‘beat’ her, or when she then says her child ‘beat’ her. Having seen the toddler smack her in anger, I know what she means, but I did not see what the husband did, and neither do I see any bruises. How I am supposed to take it when people say that the police arrested someone and gave him a ‘good and proper beating’? Is this as intense as it sounds? What do I make of the fact the speaker is satisfied that the police did this, that they are expressing it as the appropriate course for justice to take? They are using English, but the meaning can be quite different.

 Beauty, just ‘cause.
Another challenge can be written English, where the dreadful non-phonetic nature of our spelling can lead to interesting interpretations by those used to more logical spelling systems. When the programme for an event list ‘reborn cut’ I was imaging some strange baptism-meets-circumcision ceremony. Thankfully when someone else read the programme aloud, I discovered it was a ribbon that was to be cut.

Using English to communicate while I am in the process of learning Kope is extremely helpful, but it is both challenging and amusing. I need to keep slowing my speech down and simplifying how I say things. I am someone who plays scrabble and does cryptic crosswords for entertainment, so playing with words comes naturally to me, while making them simple is hard work.

No comments:

Post a Comment