From the CanIL Blog
Read below for recent articles of linguistic tidbits and news from CanIL.
Faculty in Focus
For over 30 years, Bill and his wife, Lori, have worked as linguists with Wycliffe. During that time, they’ve lived in the Philippines, Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Kenya, and this past September they joined our team of faculty at CanIL.
I often tell folks I meet: “I studied electrical engineering, and it led me directly into Bible translation.” After they chuckle, I go on to say that I am only half joking. Although the two fields aren’t normally thought of as compatible, the skills I learned in engineering, e.g. how to analyze systems and use computers, have benefited me greatly in my linguistic work. If you can think like an engineer, you can think like a linguist.
In engineering, I was taught to think in extremely precise, regimented and highly technical ways. This is also necessary for linguistic work. Linguistics is all about analyzing the various systems in languages: the phonology (sound system), morphosyntax (grammatical system), semantics and pragmatics (meaning systems) and sociolinguistics (social system). These are all crucial elements for effective Bible translation and Scripture engagement. For people to be able to learn to read the Bible in their own language, teams need to analyze the sound system and the sociolinguistic context, and develop an orthography (writing system) for that language. Teams also need to understand the semantics and morphosyntax of the language in order to develop dictionaries and make decisions on how to translate key terms.
While my wife and I were serving with Wycliffe in Africa, I was asked to teach linguistics to university students, first in Mozambique (in Portuguese) and then in Kenya (in English). I hadn’t originally set out to be a teacher —but it has gone so well that we've been invited to teach full-time at Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL). We are really enjoying it!
Why do we love teaching linguistics? What motivates us? It’s the people. When you are training you often have three different groups of people, and each type is uniquely valuable. The first group is those who really struggle learning the concepts. With them, we’re happy to simply help them move forward. The second group is those who learn what we teach and apply it, confidently able to do the work themselves. Both of those are fine, but it’s the third group that really encourages and speaks to us. They are the people we train who really run with the information; they’re the ones who learn the material and immediately start looking for other people to teach. Again, all people are valuable, but it’s those moments when everything clicks for someone and they catch a passion for what they’ve just learned—that’s truly what we live for!
My goal as a linguistics teacher is to be like a master craftsman, apprenticing others to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need to be successful and effective out in the field. And my hope is that some of those journeymen will in turn go on to train others. That’s what the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, NLT).
It has been rewarding to see Africans we have trained go on to become Bible translators and translation and Scripture engagement consultants—putting into practice what they have learned and also passing it on to others. Now, as we begin teaching at CanIL, we look forward to seeing the partnerships that these students will develop with language communities around the world, as they share what they have learned.
Surveying the Top of the World
- A 2013 CanIL alumnus shared this video, which was filmed during her first (and her colleague's final) language survey trip in South East Asia. We enjoyed it so much, we asked for permission to share it. Enjoy!
How do you know when you know a language?
It could be that your knowledge of other languages falls somewhere in the ‘grey zone.’ You may have dabbled here and there and spent periods of time in foreign countries, where you acquired varying degrees of proficiency in one or more languages. Perhaps you flounder every time someone asks ‘How many languages do you speak?’ because you know that “knowing” a language is not a concrete point at which one arrives.