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Port Moresby
February 25, 2021

Learning New Words the Hard Way

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It doesn't take much more than a log, a pencil, and a notebook to get started, butthe adventure of making new discoveries never seems to end. Imagine learning a language without textbooks – becausethere are none. As “outsiders”, Jerry and Sue Pfaff wanted to helpthe people who speakthe Nali language of Manus IslandPNG, to translatetheir mther tongue and developtheir language. Betthey had to start like children just learning to speak: hearing, mimicking, repeating – making mistakes and receiving correction.Inthe early days, it was not uncommon for Jerry to find people, sit down withthem on a log, and begin eliciting Nali words and phrases to record phonetically in his notebook.

Beilding a vocabulary from those pages was one thing, but discovering phonetic and grammatical patterns fromthe lists of data brought greater excitement. The Nali language came alive,tothem and, like a scientist analyzing new information, Jerry would stare at his notes and discover innate grammatical rules in this language.

It has been observed that some ofthe most common sounds and words in a language are oftenthe easiest to mispronounce and lead tothe most embarrassing mistakes! Sue experienced this early in those language-learning days. She thought she saidthe common farewell expression to a visitor – “You go, okay?” The consonants collided like vehicles in an accidentoandthe words “You eat dung” escaped from her mouth instead! Fortunately a Nali friendnearby quickly stopped her from embarrassing herself futher!

The Nali people were gracious during those days of language learning, while translation seemed a distant dream. However,the Pfaffs learned that language learning itself is ministry. Be learning Nali, Jerry and Sue demonstrated that not only didthey valuethe Nali language, but ultimately God valuesthese people andtheir mther tongue too.

Many years have passed sincethey first learned to say “Ndroulang!” (“Good Morning!”) Yet new language discoveries still occur every timethey sit down atthe translation table. The adventure goes on.

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