Since I had extra time on Pohnpei, I decided to try to find Ngatikese speakers living in Kolonia (the main town). I already had made a few connections the previous days and one woman seemed really eager to help. I knew roughly where in town she lived and it only took Kristin and I a few minutes to find her. We chatted for a while and eventually I asked her if I could ask her some questions about Ngatikese and she seemed excited to help. It turns out she used to be a teacher in Sapwuahfik and in Kolonia for a total of about 40 years. I was able to record for about an hour with her and I got an initial word list of just over 200 words, some grammatical information and a few minutes of her describing the pear story. She said we can stop by whenever we want and I will probably stop by Friday or Saturday again. After listening to the recording I have several new questions from her. The downside about recording at her place is that there is a lot of background noise from her grandchildren, chickens, geckos, other birds, cars, neighbors playing bingo, and even construction work nearby. Luckily the recorder didn't pick up all the background noise, but it is going to be hard to find an ideal place to record here.
Today I met with the Ngatikese teacher at Ohmine Elementary school whom I met briefly yesterday. I told he him a little more about what I was doing and he drove me around town showing me where Ngatikese live. He also tried to find NMC speakers for me. Based on what he told me it seems only older men know it (~60+ years old) and that they only use it among themselves when playing cards or checkers. He said he knew several men in Sapwuahfik who still use it and that there it was also used with sailing. The younger men, especially those living in Pohnpei don't know it or use only a few phrases like greetings. I did, however, meet several Ngatikese speakers that I can follow up with. It was raining the entire time that he took me around so it was impossible to record anything anyway because of the noise from the tin roofs. For my very initial findings it seems that NMC is pretty endangered, unless the younger men don't admit to knowledge of it. Ngatikese, however, is widely spoken by Ngatikese on Pohnpei and Sapwuahfik, though some Ngatikese say that the way youth speak on Pohnpei is very heavily Pohnpeian influenced. I would love to explore these more.
Later that afternoon after I got home from that little adventure, I got a call from the CIA (the airline) who said my flight to Sapwuahfik tomorrow was canceled because there were not enough people flying back from Sapwuahfik. They book us instead on the next flight this Tuesday, 7/1. I expected that this might happen so if I can make this next flight things should be good and I would still have about 10 days in Sapwuahfik. After the news, Kristin and I still decided to go shopping for supplies since we had time and we went around to a few places to buy rice, canned meats, snacks, toilet paper, and a few other things. We are both pretty much ready now, if the flight works out.
Now that I have a few more days on Pohnpei, hopefully I can meet some of those Ngatikese again. There were a couple of them that seemed really interested. There were also some that seemed really confused by what I was doing or found it amusing. We'll see if anything happens. This experience is so typical of Pohnpei. You just have to go with the flow and expect that whatever you plan might not work and just do what you can.
After a fairly relaxing weekend of catching up with some friends, making new ones, and getting reacquainted with the island, I decided to start doing some prep work for my upcoming trip to Sapwuahfik. This morning I confirmed and paid for Kristin, one of the JVs who will be joining me, and my plane tickets to Sapwuahfik with Caroline Island Air (abbreviated CIA...what a great name for an airline!). The plane leaves at about 7.30/8am on Thursday and check-in starts at 7am. Sapwuahfik is just over 80 mi away from Pohnpei so the flight should only take about 45 min. It also looks like a full flight so hopefully it won't be delayed a few days due to a lack of passengers. I also confirmed the details for meeting tomorrow some Ngatikese speakers and possibly an older man who speaks NMC. If all works out well, I can start working with speakers tomorrow!
After taking care of those arrangements I showed Kristin what she will be doing to help (mainly helping with metadata and making sure the recorder is functioning properly). We might be doing a practice recording session tonight so that we can both get a feel of how it will work. After our brief training session we went shopping in town to get a few things that we need to bring with us to Sapwuahfik. We didn't have time to get everything, so we'll have to head out again tomorrow or possibly later tonight. Overall, it looks like things are coming along well and we should be prepared for our first session tomorrow.
Update: Right after I posted this entry I had a surprise visit by the Catholic deacon from Sapwuahfik and some of his relatives including two of my former students. I did not expect them to come over and I did not know that my students were Ngatikese. The family brought me a mwaramwar (lei) and a copy of a painting of the recently closed Village Hotel that a relative of theirs painted. We chatted for a while and they told me stories about Sapwuahfik and asked about my research. The deacon told me he had contacted people on the atoll via radio the other day and that things were set for my arrival. They were really excited to have me come and the family invited me to come over for dinner when I get back to Pohnpei in a couple weeks. They also told me that Sapwuahfik commemorated the massacre every year on July 12, which I will miss by two days, but that this will be the first year that the Ngatikese on Pohnpei will commemorate it as well. Hopefully I can join that. I am even more excited to go to Sapwuahfik, especially now that I can start putting faces to names.
Before I leave for Pohnpei in a few days, I want to explain a bit more what kind of linguistic work I'll be doing and why it is important.
The type of linguistic fieldwork that I'll be doing falls under the category of language documentation. The purpose of language documentation is to create a 'documentation' of a language that in theory covers all aspects of the language, can be used for a variety of purposes later on, and can be accessible indefinitely in the future. That is a pretty lofty goal and one that requires a lot of time and work over many years. How do we make a documentation of a language? The simple answer is through audio and video recordings of people using the language in many different contexts. These recordings are the documentation and from them, linguists can eventually create grammars, dictionaries, and journal articles, but these are secondary to the recordings. To make the documentation long lasting and accessible, all the recordings are deposited in a language archive, which guarantees that they will be available online in perpetuity.
The primary goal of my time in Pohnpei is to collect as many audio recordings as possible. I hope to record (with the speakers' permission) conversations, stories, and other 'natural' speech events, as well as ellicited speech, where I ask the speaker questions such as how do you say this word in your language or what does this grammatical construction mean. I will also have some videos and drawings that I will show some speakers and then ask them what happened in each to elicit different grammatical constructions in a more naturalistic way.
After I have some recordings I will work with a speaker to start transcribing the recordings so I can start analyzing them. Transcribing recordings is a VERY time consuming process. 1 minute of a recording can take several hours to transcribe properly. I will only get a very small amount of the transcription done while I'm there.
In addition to making recordings, my secondary goal is to gather information about the number of speakers of Ngatik Men's Creole (NMC) and where they live in Pohnpei State. There is no good data about speaker numbers and their demographic and all that we have are rough estimates from the early 1980s. I will try to get more detailed data on this by conducting oral interviews about language use. If someone self-reports being a NMC I will mark down the GPS coordinates of where they live. Eventually I will be able to map where the language is used.
So why is this research important? On a large scale, some linguists say that perhaps 50% of the world's languages will be extinct by the end of this century! Language documentation strives to curb the reduction of the world's languages and to provide a good record of them if they do go extinct so future generations will be able to access them. Luckily, most Micronesian languages are pretty health and do not seem to be endangered. However, these languages have small speaker populations, all under 100,000 and some under 1,000 and with climate change and current large scale immigration to the United States, these language could become endangered in the coming decades. Ngatikese and NMC are the two least documented languages in Pohnpei State. Both of these languages have a very small speaker population (Sapwuahfik had a population of about 430 people as of the 2010 census) and with NMC purportedly used only by men, it could have even fewer speakers. To make things worse, there has been very little written about NMC and there are no details on the number of speakers since the early 1980s. As far as anyone knows, NMC could be critically endangered! It is my job to set this all straight and figure out what is going on with the language.
I started this blog so that people back home can follow me as I head back to Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia for my summer research. Thanks to a student research award from the Colleges of Arts & Sciences at UH, I will be in Pohnpei from June 18 - July 23 (though I leave Honolulu on June 16).
For my research I will begin documenting the Ngatik Men's Creole on Sapwuahfik Atoll (an outer-island of Pohnpei) as well as Ngatikese, a language closely related to Pohnpeian. Both of the languages have not well documented before and there is very little written about them.
The plan for my summer research is to fly first to Pohnpei, after a one night layover in Guam. There is a significant Ngatikese community on Pohnpei, so I will hopefully be able to connect with several speakers of those language there. From June 26 to July 10, I will be on Sapwuahfik Atoll, if the flight works out (more on this later). On Sapwuahfik there is no electricity except for perhaps a few solar panels, so I will not be able to update the blog while I'm there. Once I get back on Pohnpei, I will have a few weeks to process and organize my data collected in Sapwuahfik and will hopefully be able to make more recordings while I'm there.
While on the main island of Pohnpei, I will try to post everyday or as often as possible to keep you all updated!
Some of you may not know where Sapwuahfik (Ngatik) and Pohnpei (I'll be staying in Kolonia) are, so I have provided two maps below to help you find it.