The SPES team, as well as some other SIL teams serving in the Sepik, spent much of last week attending the Planning the Future of Our Language Workshop held in Wewak. This week other teams will be attending the same course at Ukarumpa. Much was gleaned from the course by all who participated. Now comes the challenge of figuring out how to make the material work in our context.
The participants varied from recent Oral Bible Storytelling workshop participants who are just beginning to work with SPES to other SIL teams who have been working in their language programs between ten and thirty years. The workshop is designed to help language communities assess the vitality of their language. Are there written materials in their tok ples (heart language)? Does everyone in the village speak the language? Do all the adults speak the language, but only some of the children? Do only the older adults speak the language? Do people no longer speak the language, but they still use it to identify who they are as a community? These are all vital questions that need to be asked.
Based on the answers given and community ownership, different communities will have different action plans that they will pursue. Will they teach their language in the elementary schools? Will the parents commit to teaching the tok ples in their homes rather than just the national language? Will they continue to use their language in certain parts of their lives (gardening, hunting, calling the names of various objects in the environment, greetings, traditional dances, etc.)? Are they no longer using the language in everyday life, but would like to document particular things before there are no longer people who know the language?
The participants found the workshop helpful. Activities were shown and then practiced that can help the communities come to understand where they are on the “language vitality mountain”. Language group participants grappled with the realities of what life could look like in the future. The SPES team is wrestling with the best way to incorporate the materials after the completion of each cluster of Oral Bible Storytelling workshops. We will need time to train mother tongue speakers to do the activities, ask questions and get feedback. After all that information has been gathered, then we can look at the data and figure out how to move forward with each language group.
There is much yet to be learned and developed, but we look forward to seeing how this tool can be used to effectively help language communities understand where they are and take ownership of the language work.
Photos by Gary Abbas