Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Learn Swahili in Twenty Minutes -- E.

Okay, you can't learn very much Swahili in twenty minutes, but a few words, phrases, and sentences are within reach. There I am with Mr. Maurice, who is an expert Swahili speaker and who agreed to help me out the other Sunday with my monolingual demonstration. The goal was to see how much I could learn about Swahili while neither of us spoke any English.
I know that sounds simple, but when other people are watching you the stakes rise. This next picture shows the Sunday evening crowd gathering at Greenwood Mennonite Church. Maybe that doesn't look like a lot of people to you, but (you can't tell from the picture) there was also one person in the balcony. Notice in this photo how I don't look nervous at all.

A monolingual demonstration is supposed to give a bit of a glimpse at the sort of work a field linguist might do, and how linguistics works. Also, it shows that you don't even need English to do linguistics -- you just need a native speaker of the language you're studying, a writing surface, and a little creativity.
By creativity, I mean pointing, gesturing, grunting, and acting confused.
Here I am getting the Swahili word for rock.
I hold up a rock and mumble a non-English phrase, hoping Maurice will understand that I want him to say whatever Swahili word means rock. Sure enough, he says something. I write it down with as much phonetic accuracy as I can, and hope that what I got is the word rock.
Might he really have said granite?Or a full sentence like That is a rock?Or could it have been something like You are confusing me, Mr. Linguist . . . ?
At this point I can only guess.

Loads of fun!
So that's how a monolingual demonstration goes. I think I'd do another one in a heartbeat. (Merle, thanks for your glowing review!)

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