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! =)