By Jill Riepe
Last April, I went to a Dictionary Making Course in Wewak. One of the local teachers, Dike came with me and while the course was taught in Tok Pisin, the manual was only available in English. Dike did ok with the course, but I felt that the course would be so much better if the manual was available in Tok Pisin as well. I wasn’t alone in this thought. A friend of mine, Jessie Wright, taught the course later in the year and felt that a Tok Pisin manual would help the nationals really understand the material. Many nationals have been exposed to English in school, but in general do not use it in their daily lives. Tok Pisin or their own languages are the languages that they really understand.
We emailed the writer of the manual and received permission and so each week, we meet and work on translating the manual into Tok Pisin. This is quite a challenge. Tok Pisin tends to deal with more concrete things so when trying to explain abstract concepts we are often stumped and have to be creative in translating. For example, Tok Pisin doesn’t have an equivalent word for verb so we’ve translated it as tok isoim wanem samting ikamap (a word that expresses what has happened) or homonym ol tok ikrai wankain tasol mining inarakain olgeta (words that have the same sound but the meanings are completely different). We are also trying to incorporate more repetition into the manual as this seems to be the style of learning here.
Today, we worked on how to write an example sentence for a dictionary entry. This is a very challenging concept. Frequently, we would get a whole paragraph instead of just a sentence. Sometimes, the sentence would be too general and not really clarify the meaning of a word. Sometimes, the nationals would get in a pattern of just using a certain type of sentence: like quotations in every example sentence. It’s good to have a variety of sentence constructions. Example sentences should be short and yet be a sentence that only that word can be used in so that it clarifies the meaning. Also it’s important that the sentence be something that could actually be said in the language. It wouldn’t work very well if the sentence sounded like a person speaking English, but using another language’s words.
This is slow work, but we are committed to doing it. We are on lesson 4 out of 24 lessons. Fortunately, we are going on furlough at the same time so we will be able to continue our work on this even while back in the States. Perhaps in the next few years, we will be able to offer a Dictionary Making course in Tok Pisin with a Tok Pisin manual.
Jill is a Bible translator serving the Ap Ma language group.