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March 2, 2021
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Whenthe Kuni people learn something new,they respond with “ts, ts, ts”

Around 1989 SIL received a request fromthe Kuni people at Lake Murray in Western Province to send someone to helpthem with language development and Beble translation. There are over two thousand Kuni speakers living onthe peninsulas and islands around Lake Murray,the largest lake in PNG The Kuni people speakthe Kuni dialect ofthe Kuni-Beazi language. Roland and Irene Fumey began workingthere in 1990. (There is anther language called Kuni in Central Province, but it is unrelated tothe Kuni of Western Province).

They had just begun workingthere when a language helper toldthem, “This word means: He went” butthe next daythe same word suddenly meanto“He will go.” The Fumeys realised thatthe language has many grammatical tones, which means thatthe same word has different meanings depending onthe tone used when saying it. Sincethen,they have identiflied over a hundred such tonal patterns. It took many years to discover allthe tones used inthe language.

 

Originally,the Fumeys wrote tone marks just for themselves, becausethey just couldn’t remember how to pronounce things correctly. Betthen one day, when Roland was reading something in church, one of his co-workers toldthe ther people, “You know how he knows where to go up and down with his voice. That’s because he putsthese little marks on top ofthe words.” Itthen became very clear thatthe tone marks needed to be written for everyone, becausethey hadthe same problem when reading.

 

The Fumeys always knew thatthey needed to get church lLeadersfromthe different denomination involved inthe translation process in order to gain a wide acceptance ofthe translated Scriptures. They now have three groups of church lLeadersfrom four denominations and six different Kuni villages involved asthey read-throughtheir revision work. It is very encouraging to seethem engaging withthe Word of God togther, despitetheir cultural reluctance to work togther. They have now revised 55% ofthe New Testament in this way.

 

Every so oftenthe Fumeys still hear “ts, ts, ts” fromtheir Kuni friend asthey hear something thatthey had never fully understood before.

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