A SELECT group of interns is preparing in Dalas, United States, to undertake the fascinating, strenuous work of language and culture documentation in Solomon Islands.
The seven interns—two linguists, two recording specialists, one dance expert, one music expert and a speaker of several of the local languages—will accompany Dr. Brenda Boerger to conduct fieldwork here.
Earlier this year, Dr Boerger received a Documenting Endangered Languages Fellowship (her second) for her continuing work with the Natügu-speaking community of Santa Cruz Island. During the three months of fieldwork, the team’s primary focus will be to support the community in compiling a dictionary.
Dr Boerger’s FLEx database for the Natügu dictionary currently contains 5,000 words.
During the team’s first three weeks on the island they plan to conduct a Rapid Word Collection (RWC) workshop and hope to raise that number to as many as 20,000 words. Verna Stutzman, Dictionary and Lexicography Services Coordinator, recently trained the interns in RWC methods.
In an RWC workshop, groups of mother-tongue speakers work through questionnaires that prompt them to think of words related to different semantic domains. Another aspect of the team’s work will take them into the realms of ethnobotany and ethnoarts as they document features of the traditional nelâ dances.
Dr Boerger notes, “Nelâ dances, with their lyric poetry and the elaborate costumes, define what it means to be a Santa Cruz person. The three indigenous language groups of the island (Natügu, Nalögo, and Engdewu) share this dance as a highly significant, unifying, cultural identity marker.” The interns will study the construction of the dance ring.
Traditionally, wooden canoes are buried under the ring, making the entire dance ring like a large drum head.
“The dance makes a low-pitched beat that one feels, as much as hears,” says Dr Boerger.
The team will also make audio and video recordings, investigate the backstrap loom weaving technique used to make the dancers’ loincloths, interview elders about the history of the dance and collect samples of the plants used in the special costumes. At the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), Dr Karen C. Hall taught the group how to properly collect and label botanical specimens.
The plant samples they collect will be archived in herbaria in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and at BRIT. Another component of the training involves computer software.
The interns are gaining facility in using several programs for dictionary development and documentation, including FLEx, SayMore and Audacity. Dr Brenda Boerger serves as SIL’s Special Consultant for Language and Culture Documentation.
She and her husband lived in the Solomon Islands and served as advisors to the Natügu Language Project for nearly twenty years, working alongside Natügu-speaking people in language development efforts.