27 March 2004

Morobe Field Diary, October 1976: Stages of Language Learning

I believe I'm at a point now where things I had to concentrate on to hear several months ago I can hear 'at a glance' now. A lot of the language worked its way into my subconscious or spontaneous memory/capacity while I was in Mosbi [Port Moresby, the capital]. It is as if my subconscious is where my conscious was two or three months ago. Analysis is a language production device, I think, only or mostly for the conscious mind. Rote formula thinking handles a hell of a lot of the production at the level of daily transactions.

The local stages of language learning are:

A. 'Ulongoni wai/Yu harim pinis/You know the language', i.e. you can carry out basic exchanges of betel-nut, food, going and coming and the like. By these rules it's true that people learn Numbami in a month.

B. 'Unenela i/Yu winim mipela/You know it better than we do', i.e. you know some pretty esoteric vocabulary: the archaic/nonborrowed word for 'to buy', words like 'thump', 'saliva', 'spouse of one's cross-sibling' [= sibling of the opposite sex]; words people seldom use because the things they designate are seldom talked about or because the native vocabulary has been replaced by borrowings.

There is no evidence that ability to tell a good story (or tell a story well) is considered a language ability.

No comments: