Courtesy to The Arbiter
The Somali-Bantu refugees in Boise have friends in the linguistics program at Boise State. The researchers are documenting the Kizigua and Maay Maay languages of the Somali-Bantu people. A group of students and faculty members are documenting both languages under the direction of Dr. Michal Temkin Martinez.
“When I first interviewed here, I found out there was a refugee population,” Temkin Martinez said. “I thought ‘how can we link students’ experiences with endangered languages and how can we do outreach with refugees?’ ”
This research project is more than just a documentation of an endangered language. The goals of this project include the production of a dictionary for the Kizigua language and to give students practical experience in the field. Temkin Martinez helped to create the two programs with retired Professor Emeritus Jon Dayley. Dayley said Kizigua is one of about 500 Bantu languages, and it has a complexity far greater than the English language.
“There’s this tremendous productivity and complexity within the verb system. That I find really interesting,” Dayley said. “The noun classes are hard to deal with, but the verbs – I like (the) powerful, productive verbs.”
Dayley also said that even in his retirement, he spends two or three hours a week working with the Somali-Bantu consultant, and three times that amount with analysis.
These projects include several undergrad interns and it keeps them very busy. Temkin Martinez said the work these students are doing is at the graduate level and even graduate students usually don’t get this kind of hands-on exposure in fieldwork.
Temkin Martinez helped to design this research program with the intent of including direct and hands-on application for linguistics majors at an advanced level.
“I was really interested in getting students excited about linguistics,” Temkin Martinez said. “And I figured if we were to work with refugees on a language that is somewhat endangered, students would get a really great experience in field methods and linguistics, and on top of that, we would be helping a community by documenting the language.”
Temkin Martinez also said after working on this project, the student interns are able to pick from their top choices in graduate programs.
The Maay Maay language program started in January 2012 as a senior seminar in linguistics. Prior to this program, most linguistics majors had to take writing, literature and technical communication as senior seminars.
“One of her great feats, besides getting the linguistics lab, was getting our own senior seminar course,” said Sarah Plane, senior linguistics major. “Documenting an undocumented language in a field methods class is something you definitely don’t see until grad school, and even if then.”
“For anyone going to grad school in linguistics, the writing aspects and the research aspects were really useful,” Plane said. “But they weren’t gaining any core (linguistic-related) values and (were not) being able to apply any knowledge from the linguistics courses into the capstone.”
For most people, the idea of documenting an endangered language is a new concept, especially when it comes to a language not many Americans have ever heard of.
“Before I was asked to join this project, I never even heard of the language,” Kelli Jones, junior linguistics major said. “I figured the best way to get involved with something that you’re interested in is just to dive right in.”
Jones is the student editor of the Kizigua dictionary. She proofreads the Kizigua-to-English dictionary and takes notes of the video recordings of the Somali-Bantu
“It’s my first experience with a language I’ve never heard of, that I’ve never had any experience with,” Jones said.
Plane said the project records more than random words or phrases for a
“We’ve done 13 one-hour elicitations with our consultant,” Plane said. “We get to figure out the phonemic inventory and the morphological aspects (the ones) we can pick apart or guess at.”
Temkin Martinez added the program has amassed over 100 hours of the Kizigua language, and the Maay Maay project has yielded interesting results. According to Plane, one of the Maay Maay-speaking consultants is writing traditional children’s stories in English, and the linguistics program is putting together a DVD of him telling the stories. They hope to publish it in the
vWe’re hoping that we can get to the refugee community here in Boise and have the children draw some pictures to go along with the stories,”
Dayley started the senior seminar last year and continues to document the Kizigua language with the Somali-Bantu refugees in Boise. The project has produced a 3,300-word dictionary and a grammar of the language to be submitted for publication.
“It’s just exciting on both counts. Our work not only benefits the research and the opportunities for our students, but we’re also working to contribute back to the society,” Plane said. “In this case, the Kizigua project is working on a dictionary, so that they can have some function for looking up words for the grocery store or just conversational words – it’s a benefit for their community as well.”