Saturday, September 3, 2011

Information overload!

After the recent church evaluation, our family left Mibu and started a 2 week long course called the Advanced Language Workshop. We're just about finished with it at this point and my brain is feeling overloaded! Don't get me wrong. The information is GREAT! It's just that it's a LOT!

To learn about the deeper levels of how a language works we...

Break texts down into propositions on a chart.
Chart out all the grammatical features of each proposition.
Chart out all the semantic features of the text.
Note the hierarchical organization of the pieces of the text.
Review the chart trying to discover the patterns the language uses to communicate.

That's the chart. The chart is the tool. But then we need the knowledge for how to use it. That's the part that leaves our heads spinning at the end of the day! You see, each language has it's own specific way of doing things like helping the hearer keep track of what or who the speaker/writer is talking about and to keep track of what is important versus what is just background info. Each language handles the breaking up of information into 'chunks' as well as relating all those chunks together in different ways. And to complicate things even further, each speaker/writer has at least a subconscious awareness of shared knowledge and experience with the recipients of their message. All this (and much more than I could possibly write about here) comes together to determine a very specific combination of sounds, words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, all structured and related to each other in ways that are fully capable of communicating just what the author intended. This is true of every single piece of communication that has ever left the lips of one's mouth or otherwise been penned. In fact, the only time these principles of communication are violated, one quickly concludes that the author suffers schizophrenic!

These principles are true for every language on planet earth (even the dead ones).

Learning these things gives us insight into the nature of human communication (and even how God created us to process information). Awareness of them is hugely beneficial to better understanding of how the language works into which we desire to translate God's precious word. They also help us grow further in our understanding and conviction of just what God intended to be communicated to us in the original language that his word was inspired to be written.

At this point, we've had this crammed into our heads with just a kick off in the application of it. My head hurts!

Why spend all this money (yeah, it costs!) and time to try to learn this stuff better? Is it so we can feel smarter? Is it so we have an excuse to buy more aspirin for our headaches? Is it so that we can get so into it that the thoughts of communication patterns keeps us awake at night because we just can't let it go? Nope. Nope. And nope. We do it because Jesus did it. That's right, by being born an actual human baby and being raised as part of a specific people, culture and language, these things became so much a part of him (in the unique patterns of his mother-tongue) that they all happened in his communication to people without him even having to think about it; just like we do with our own mother-tongue. Jesus communicated to people in the normal everyday language, and he did so by first becoming one of them. In following this model as best we can (and since we can't be 'born' again into Mibu culture) we find other methods by which to learn how to communicate naturally with the people we serve. Understanding these things also helps us on the other side, when we're trying to understand what the biblical authors may have been communicating when they wrote because the translations available to us are largely based on Greek forms. Those Greek language patterns are hard to understand clearly. (Do you ever struggle to understand what was being said when you're reading your bible? There's a reason for that!). So we need to sort through the forms available to us in order to better discern what the authors intended to communicate. It's when we can discern these things accurately that we can then turn that message around and put it in a form that works in the Mibu language. That is why we take the time and expense to attend workshops like this!

We're looking forward to being able to use these tools and this knowledge better so as to better serve the Mibu people!


Steve Runge said...

Hi Geoff,
I have not taken the advanced language description course, only first semester of SIL and the analyzing discourse workshop. I'd appreciate seeing how you chart. I should have samples of my own from James before too much longer to swap.

Geoff and Shannon Husa said...

Hey Steve, I just started charting myself. Actually I've been piddling with it on and off for the last couple years, but struggled with some of the concepts in ways that was just making the whole exercise impractical. For me, it's all about practicality. Doesn't do me any good just to do the exercise. It must be applicable to bible translation in the Mibu language. But this last 2 week workshop has me beginning the process again. All my charting is done in the Mibu language, not Koine Greek. For that, I'll leave it to people like yourself and Levinsohn and others (though I wouldn't mind giving it a go someday if could learn enough Greek :) I'd be happy to get you our chart if you like. Are you on the mac or the PC? It uses macros on excel.

The heart of the chart is where you list out your texts, proposition by proposition. On one side you mark out all known grammatical features. The other side is for charting out semantic elements of the text. Then there is a section for charting out all the communication relations. As you go along, you start to get a feel for different things that are happening in the text and you keep a running list of your hypotheses. Once you notice patterns in a certain genre, spanning over several texts of the same genre, then you can start to solidify conclusions. Over time, the more texts you do, the more you see and learn.

I've seen some other charts and they all seem to focus on just one or a few elements of discourse analysis, which I would imagine would be good once you need to really hone in on just one or two specific areas, or when dealing with one of those difficult areas that you're having a hard time figuring out. One thing I like about the chart that we're using though is that you can look at ALL discourse features on one chart. Very helpful since so many areas of discourse overlap each other. For example, issues of participant tracking have heavy overlap into the area of prominence. You want to be able to keep an eye on the whole picture at all times.

For me, I expect DA charting will be slow as my primary push is trying to keep the Mibu bible translation project pushing ahead. It's a catch 22 really. Slow things down to do discourse analysis, thus greatly improving my knowledge of language in general and more specifically the tribal language I'm translating into. In that case, I feel bad that the translation slows to even more of a crawl for the people who need and want it. Or I can keep going with translation. In that case, I struggle with how to properly use certain features of the Mibu language and wonder if I could do the job faster and better if I just took some time out to do DA. But the needs of the church press on. They need food! Kind of like a farmer deciding to take planting season off to go to school to learn how to farm better. He's gonna miss out on a season of crops that way, but probably be better off in the long run. I think I'm going to try committing one morning a week to doing DA and see how that goes. Just enough to keep everything moving forward, though slowly.