Working in a remote location, it can be hard to keep up with professional development. This is where it is a benefit to be part of a large organisation, as we can organise our own times of PD. This happened a few months ago when the Linguistics Department put on a grammar workshop. Now, I know that to many of you that sounds like an event requiring a mattress and pillow so that you can catch up on sleep. For us ordinary working linguists (OWLs) though, it is a reason to celebrate. Rather than being individually in our offices, bogged down in words and technical terms, we can come together to dissect and re-assemble our languages with the support and insight of others who have gone before us.
For a week we came together to discuss languages. It was a group of thirty people, from ten nations, who between us work with more than thirty indigenous languages from around the world. We refreshed our knowledge of grammar, and refined our understanding of how it applied to our specific situation. As a presenter would talk through a particular feature that is known to occur in the languages of PNG, we would each be mentally ticking off it applied to us, and sometimes breathing a sign of relief if it didn't. Maybe I have to learn to work with tone and the complexitities of an agglutinating language, but at least I don't have switch reference! I switched between moments of insight, of despair, and of hope. Insight because someone mentioned something that had previously had me confused and made things clearer. Despair because it seems like I will never get my head around the complexity of Kope. Hope, because enough people have succeeded at learning, describing and using similarly complex languages before me, that surely I will succeed too, eventually.
I have studied linguistics at a tertiary level at a secular university and at a school designed specifically to prepare me for the work I now do, but I continue to find grammar terms slippery, and their application to a specific language challenging. Since as I'm currently in the enrolment process for the dissertation component of an MA in field linguistics, I am lining myself up to once again battle the terminology and theories, but with good reason. The reason is that in looking in detail at a language I am better able to understand and use it. By pulling it apart and putting it back together again, I can describe what is happening in the language. This then contributes to our general understanding of languages, and gives the community a sense of pride that theirs is a real (and complex!) language, worthy of research and description.