Decoding Words
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Posted by: Rich Rudowske 12/25/2013 5:56 PM

One of the challenges of writing a previously unwritten language is figuring out word breaks and formalizing the way words will be written and spelled in the newly written language.  In some cases, this is difficult.  For example, in her book Shekgalagari Grammar, author Kemmonye Monaka describes that the past tense continuous or simple past tense (it is actually hard to describe which it actually is) is formed by the TAM (tense, aspect, modality) marker 'iye' (prounounced ee-yay) before the subject pronoun and regular form of the verb.  An example would be 'Iye ke tyhaboga', which means either 'I was running' or 'I ran'. 

In team checking several of the passages we have drafted in Luke, I kept coming across both 'iye' and 'iya' (prounounced ee-yah) being used for essentially the same function.  Nowhere in the written grammar is this form 'iya' attested to, but there it was, and it is undeniable that you hear something that sounds like that in spoken Shekgalagari. 

Upon further investigation, it appears that 'iya' usually appears before a word that begins with the letter 'a' (the 'ah' sound), and so when someone is speaking, it will naturally kind of all blend together (you don't hear the 'ay' sound right before the 'ah' sound, the 'ah' sound dominates).  But in other cases 'iya' was still present without that 'ah' sound occuring in the next word, for example "Iya goroshela mononeng wa moleohi go rwee gkayo" (He welcomed sinful people to spend time with them).  In this phrase, at first glance, there is not a good explanation of why 'iya' is used instead of 'iye', since the g sound of the next word (the real hock a loogie sound 'ch' at the end of the Scottish word 'loch') would not require an 'ah' sound.  But upon further investigation, we uncovered that the pronoun 'a', referring to Jesus, has been swallowed up in 'iya' and what is actually being said is "Iye a goroshela mononeng wa moleohi go rwee gkayo."  In speech, those first two words come out sounding like one word, they all run together.  Of course, everyone understands that Jesus is being referred to.  But the question becomes a matter of 'do we write it like it sounds?' or 'do we write it to reflect what is happening gramatically?'  Or do we alter the spelling to reflect a phonological change that is happening.  In a very real sense, writing formalizes language, so these are the types of things that must be attended to at the beginning of a written project.  Orally, it will still come out sounding the same, but in writing, we can see the language at work, following its rules.  This is the kind of stuff at the beginning that makes it so that you only team check four verses in four hours, but is the solid foundation that, if built well now, will make the overall translation go quicker and be a much better product. 

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement!  R&M

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