Tuesday, January 22, 2008

PLANTS - Toronto - Part 1

We are currently in Toronto taking a linguistics preparation course. The goal is to give us two weeks of intensive language prep on phonetics, how to learn, tools and tricks, working with a local language helper, etc so that when we arrive in the field in Niger to start learning a tribal language we are ready to go and have some idea of how to get there!

Here are some highlights that I have thus far enjoyed:

Our group of fellow learners is small. Only 15 or so. People in our group are going to:
• Kyrgyzstan
• Niger
• Bangladesh
• Japan
• Burundi
• Arabian Peninsula
• Spain
• Brazil

There are over 7000 languages in the world. Mandarin is the largest group with 900 million speakers. English and Spanish are next with 300 million each. HALF the languages of the world have less than 5,000 remaining speakers.

As the image below illustrates, the natural progression of how most of the world learns language is to go up the triangle. People learn to improve their lives, get ahead, get a new job, move to a better place, etc. It is much rarer that people move DOWN the triangle in their language learning. To people who live and speak in these lower level (speaking triangle wise - dont get all defensive on me!) they are often amazed and touched that people come to learn their language. This opens many doors into their lives and allows you to be accepted into their community. For Paul and I, we are training to make the jump all the way from the top of the triangle to the very bottom, to learn a tribal language.

In the English language we are locked into 44 sounds that make up our language. There are over 700 sounds out there in all the different languages! It is all mechanical and all of our mouths are made the exact same way. We can retrain our mouths and muscles to make all of these sounds with work. And yet even with 44 sounds in English, we make miracles! We have poetry, film, tell stories, etc. How amazing is the power of language!

In terms of trying to make all of those sounds that I cant yet make I have learned one thing. ---If you are attempting to make a new sound and your mouth DOES NOT feel funny, then you are doing it WRONG and you are relying on one of the 44 sounds that you are familiar with.

More notes from the field later.

I'll leave you with an Arabic proverb
“The power of a man is in his mind and on his tongue”.

Never forget the power you carry.

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