Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Linguistics and Language Learning

I thought you may be interested in seeing how the Ye'kwana language looks in written form.

Awa´deene yaaajäntädaawä Wanaadi cönaamode´nai caju, nono mmaja,

The time and effort put forth to achieve a phonetic break down of the language so that you may be able to transcribe what you are hearing into a phonetic alphabet is staggering. This will allow the translator to be able to reproduce the sounds he is hearing, which will be the first step in the language learning process. This requires listening for phonetic sounds and intonation patterns.

We use two methods to achieve this. TRACKING and MIMICRY.

Tracking is listening to a tribal speaker either on tape or in person, and quietly with your lips, or silently in your mind, repeat exactly what he is saying. Instantaneously mimic everything being said so that you are never more than 4 or 5 syllables behind the speaker. This is difficult at first but will become a real help to hearing and understanding the language in rapid speech. Tracking should become a habit. ( Non- tribal language learners could use this method with radio or television to good effect.)

Mimicry is working with yourself. It is copying the rhythm and pitch you hear in the spoken language. It is mimicking the people. Not just sounds but intonations also. One must take advantage of every opportunity to say things as they do, using their rhythm, pitch and expression. You can not possibly write down everything you hear and maintain the speed and rhythm of the spoken language, but you can mimic a lot as you hear it! Don't get the people to slow down for you, mimic them at their natural rate.

Mimicry is practicing with yourself while alone and when with the people. Lots of talking will cement the material you are learning. Your goal is to be as natural as possible and to sound as much like them as possible.

Memorization without adequate mimicry is a good way to ensure a foreign accent!

Anyone care to venture a guess at what the following means?

Awa´deene yaaajäntädaawä Wanaadi cönaamode´nai caju, nono mmaja,

(based on New tribes Language and Culture learning manual)


  1. Ok, me first. I think it means, "The long worms are tastier than the bananas."

    Your mention of tracking makes me think of sign language interpreters. They are signing what they heard several seconds ago while mentally processing what is being said now. It's amazing!

  2. "I don't wanna go to school today, Mom!" ;)