Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunha! (Finished!)

I have not forgotten about this blog! I've been buried under graduate work and wedding plans. I just finished the last project for the semester: a description of imperatives in Garifuna (let me know if you want to take a peek). I plan on blogging more starting in January, so, until then, Merry Christmas and darí amu irumu (see you next year)!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Atúriahani (Studying)

I haven't posted much lately because I've been busy with an online master's degree program in applied linguistics that began recently. It's through the University of Massachusetts, and language learning is one of the central parts. I think it will be useful for teaching, missions, and my own language learning, which all tie together. One good thing is that I get to study Garifuna for some of my classwork.

The first class is applied linguistics. Not everyone in the program has a background in the field, so it's an introductory course, but aimed toward language learning and language teachers. One of my projects for this class is fieldwork in Garifuna. I'm looking at how imperative verbs (commands) work: intransitive, transitive, affirmative, negative, singular, plural, etc.

My second class is about cross-cultural perspectives. We have to spend time in a cross-cultural context, take field notes, and write a paper about several cultural themes. Since I get to interact with Garifuna friends in their homes, at Bible study, at church, etc., I can focus on some areas of interest and write about them.

My third class is about bilingual/multicultural education, and we are required to observe and write about some kind of program along these lines. There are Garifuna classes at an elementary school in a nearby community, and I'm hoping it works out to do my observations there.

My "cohort" ("classmates") and I have online discussion forums, so I get to share my experiences and learn from others. I'm still figuring out time management; the advantage is that I can program my own hours each week. I've done a lot of work today, so now I get to reward myself reviewing Garifuna verbs in a computer program. =) More on that next time. =)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ábouguni (Cooking)

One of the most effective language and culture learning activities I've been using is cooking with Garifuna women. One advantage is hearing words and phrases repeatedly with minor variations: "Add salt," "Add a little onion," "We're going to boil it," "We're going to stir it," etc. I know a lot of kitchen vocabulary, so hearing it in a context while I complete an action reinforces what I know and helps me absorb small amounts of new information.

Another benefit is that doing an activity together reduces mental fatigue for me and patience depletion for the other person (!!!). =) It kind of takes the pressure off of conversations. Plus, I get to overhear what women say to their children, to other people who stop by, or even to themselves ("Where did I put ___?"). This is much more natural than explicitly asking how to say these expressions.

As some of you know, cooking has never been my forté. Furthermore, with a new array of ingredients available here (add yuca, for example, and take away CHOCOLATE CHIPS - sigh...) and cooking approaches (forget recipes, just call an older or sister or cousin if needed), I can use all the help available! It is a lot of fun and makes me think a Garifuna cookbook might be a fun project someday.

I thought I'd show you some of the things I've learned to make.

(The picture is not mine.) This is a typical meal of fried fish (úduraü), fried plantains (baruru), and rice and beans (literally called "rice and beans" in Garifuna). The hardest part is cleaning the fish (afúleihani), but the rest is easy: you just cut slits in the sides and put salt there before frying them. After almost losing a thumbnail, I can finally do a decent job slicing plantains. To make rice and beans, you season and boil the beans, and then add the residual water plus coconut milk (instead of water) to cook the rice, and you add the rest of the beans at the end. Sunha! (Done!)

This is tapado, a coconut soup with fish, ripe plantains, cooked green bananas, yuca, and spices.

Finally, I have to show a new cookie recipe I've found (cookies are typically the only edible thing I make). Step one is buying darara, yuca flour, at the local market (completing the transaction in Garifuna, of course). Then you just add a bit of salt (salu), an egg (gañéin), sugar (súgara), and oil (agüle), roll and flatten the dough into the size you want, and bake it. You might imagine the intended recipient of the cookies in the picture (my official tastetester).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Biama líburu (Two Books)

I've been using a variety of helpful resources to learn more Garifuna, one of the best being this dictionary:

As you can see, one of the authors happens to be my favorite person of all time. Another bonus is that the dictionary is trilingual: Garifuna, Spanish, and English. (There are Garifuna people who live in Belize and in the United States, and some don't speak Spanish.)

When I hear a new word in a conversation, I look it up later, or sometimes I want to refresh my mind of a useful term I still can't remember easily.

In Garifuna, nouns and corresponding modifiers have gender agreement. This is found in many languages, such as Spanish and French. ("La casa es blanca." "El perro es blanco.") When I learn new words, I make sure to remember the gender so I can use them properly.

Another fun and useful component is the etymology of borrowed words. For example, if I want to know the word for "window," I find that it is "funedere," taken from the French word, "fenêtre." This helps me remember it as well as understand the sound system better.

Just for fun, let's look up "suddenly": "sódini," with the etymology note showing it somes from the English word. Nice to know!

The word for "paper" is "gárada," which comes from "carta" in Spanish.

And one last example is "ereba," the traditional cassava bread (more about this in a future post). This food is common among South American indigenous groups. For those of you familiar with northern South America, you know about the "arepa," a thick corn tortilla that is a main part of diet and prepared in many ways. Both come from the same word in Arawak.

I love this dictionary and use it frequently, as you can tell by the picture! It was a long, tedious process for those who compiled it, and now it saves me a lot of work in language learning!

The second book I use is the Bible in Garifuna:

Garifuna is one of only 451 languages in the world with a translation of the entire Bible (many languages only have the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament, and many more still have no Scripture). Fernando was part of the translation team, and the project took years of work. Here is a portion from Psalms:

Every week at church, someone reads a passage and the sermon is given in Garifuna. We also use the Bible for the Bible story project. When L, the story crafter, needs to hear a certain verse to make sure she's telling something correctly, I look it up for her and read it. This helps me learn the language and also allows me to understand new details about familiar passages.
I hear people say how much better the Bible sounds to them in Garifuna, and I certainly feel the same about English. It's a good reminder to thank God for what we have and pray and support the effort for others to have God's Word in their own language!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Úraga lau garifuna (Stories in Garifuna)

I recently attended a workshop about crafting and telling Bible story sets for oral cultures. Stories are then taught in home groups where people can discuss them and learn to retell them.

One of these projects is underway in Garifuna. I was hoping to help in some way after acquiring a better grasp of the language (i.e., LATER). Well, two weeks ago I was invited to help with a new story set being crafted in Garifuna! "What?! I don't feel ready, but here we go!" Of course I wanted to help!

I'm working with a Garifuna woman (L) and a missionary (M) to produce a set of 12 stories about women in the Bible. So far, we have one about Eve and another about Sarah. Now we're working on the story of Ruth.

My job is to help L, the story crafter. First, I record the Bible verses about the story. If she were to read it herself, it would limit her ability to tell the story naturally. Usually I read in Spanish, but, if nobody else is available, I read in Garifuna (it's painful for both of us - ha!).

Then, I type the transcription in a Google documents template, together with the corresponding verses. Everything told must be "anchored" in Scripture.

When L feels good about the draft, we go visit Garifuna women with little or no Bible background. We have one person translate the story into Spanish so we can check for difficult terms (like "covenant" or "blessing") and reword awkward parts. Then we have at least two people retell the story after hearing it several times to gauge how reproducible it is. We also ask questions to find out how well the story is understood.

After we compile this information, we send it to a consultant, who checks for any necessary revisions.

Throughout the process, I hear the stories over and over and OVER again, which introduces me to new vocabulary and word/sentence structures, and reinforces what I've already learned. My favorite part is visiting people! I love how they hear God's Word in a new way, and it is fun to get to know more women by conversing in their language!

Please pray for those who hear the stories and for us as we move forward with the project.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ka uagu? = Why (Learn Garifuna)?

Every day I remind myself why I want to learn Garifuna. I think language learning is like training for marathons, learning to play a musical instrument, or any other endeavor that requires commitment, effort, and (most of all) internal motivation.
In the language learning class I taught, we talked about different kinds of motivation for learning languages, such as:
  • Foreign language classes are required in high school and college.
  • Being bilingual is necessary to find a job or get better pay.
  • Linguists and anthropologists are motivated to learn languages for their research findings, and some just enjoy the mental acrobatics involved!
  • Then there are those who want to become part of a new language community, either because of missions, an interest in the culture, friendships, marriage, etc.

I loved foreign language classes, and knowing Spanish helped me get jobs. I also love linguistics and figuring out how languages work. However, I'm not a student anymore, not looking for a new job, and cold, hard data quickly loses its charm. Obviously I'm learning Garifuna because I want to communicate with people in their own language.

But this resolve can be rivaled by excuses, especially when things get more difficult and less fascinating than when I first started learning the language. Sometimes I'm tempted to think:

"Everyone speaks Spanish. I love Spanish!! Isn't trying to communicate in my second language enough of a challenge? Plus, I live in a Spanish-speaking city, so I'm not surrounded by Garifuna, and living in a remote community isn't an option now. I bet people get tired of answering my questions and repeating themselves several times when I stare at them blankly. So why try?"


"This language is incredibly complex and different from Spanish or English. It takes a lot of time and energy. There are no formal classes or textbooks. Is this really worth it?"

This is when I have to remind myself (repeatedly) of the many legitimate reasons for learning Garifuna. The most obvious reason is it is Fernando's language; it's what his family and friends speak. We go to a Garifuna church. He speaks English and understands my culture, so I want to do my part!

Another reason is that I taught second language acquisition and want to go through this process to help others learn languages. I have to practice what I preach. And, I confess, it is a lot of fun! I would be going crazy if I couldn't dive in and see how Garifuna works.

When it comes down to it, my biggest motivation is God's love. If Jesus spoke with and lived with the people He loved on earth, I want to follow that example. As the Bible says, I could speak all languages but, without love, just be making noise. In other words, without love, it is meaningless. Good thing Garifuna is so hard because I can use lots of practice in having love be my ultimate motivation!

Today I was remind of this "why" when I ran into a Garifuna lady selling coconut bread (another motivator!!!) and, instead of taking the easy out with Spanish, started the conversation in her language. Her smile was the highlight of my day.

Katei san Garifuna? = What Is Garifuna?

What is Garifuna like?

The answer to the question, "What is ___ language like?" is found in the history of the people who speak it.

Let's begin in northeastern South America, where the notoriously warlike Carib people began migrating north toward the Caribbean. They reached what is present-day St. Vincent Island (see map below), inhabited by the pacific Arawaks. Carib men killed Arawak men and took their women, which led to a creole (mix) between both languages. Men's speech resembed the Carib language and women's Arawak.

During the 17th century, ships carrying Africans sunk off the coast of St. Vincent, and those who escaped to the mainland were integrated into Carib society. Since they were from different regions of Africa and did not share a common language, they learned what was spoken on the island. However, the influence of African languages did lead to some changes in pronunciation.

In the meantime, St. Vincent was considered as territory belonging to France, and, through commerce, words in French were incorporated into Garifuna. Later, the British gained control of the island, and English words became part of Garifuna. After struggling to subdue the Garifuna people, the British sent many of them to Honduras.

When they arrived, Honduras was still under Spanish rule, and, as with French and English, the Garifuna language has many words adapted from Spanish. Garifuna people settled along the Caribbean coast of Central America and currently live in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras; many have also immigrated to the U.S.

As I learn the language, I am reminded of this history through:
  • Differences in men's and women's speech.
  • Arawakan grammatical structure (Garifuna belongs to an Amerindian language family).
  • Many vocabulary words assimilated from French, English, and Spanish.

Also, the Garifuna culture reflects this mix:
  • Food related to what indigenous people in South America eat.
  • Music and dance based on African rhythms and drumming.
  • Festivals and holidays according to Catholic tradition.

Until next time... Binilabu Bungiu! (God bless you!) =)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buidula bachülürün! = Welcome!

What comes to your mind when you think of learning languages? Maybe the thought reminds you of feeling bored in a high school or college class. Maybe it brings to mind an adventure traveling in another country. Perhaps you have friends from other countries who have learned English and become a part of your community.

For me, language learning began as a distant aspiration and is now a central part of daily life. I used to count down the years and months until I would take a Spanish class (which happened when I was 16). I now find myself in the middle of a new challenge: learning Garifuna in Honduras (more about this language in a future post!).

This purpose of this blog is to share various aspects about my language learning process: victories, challenges, funny stories, interesting linguistic findings, cultural background, Garifuna people who take the time to teach me, helpful resources, and more. Your comments and suggestions are welcome!

My desire is to encourage other language learners and share with all who are interested in Garifuna and my life in Honduras. Thanks for checking in!

P.S.1. The picture is with a friend who has helped me with learning Garifuna.
P.S.2. Thanks to my good friend, Christina, for the encouraging reminder to do this! =)