"If your God is so mighty, why doesn't He speak my language?"
A Cakchiquel (Guatemala) man to SIL founder William Cameron Townsend
During the course of its work, SIL often has the honour of discussing with language communities the importance and benefits of linguistic work to the communities themselves and to the world. Linguists emphasise the potential of language documentation to preserve a fascinating and unique way of speaking and thinking about the world. Additionally, language development-particularly literacy work-often results in the speakers of a language feeling an appropriate measure of pride in their language and in their community, not to mention the educational advances and humanitarian possibilities that open up as a result of such work. SIL never tires of talking about these things!
Recently, though, SIL linguist Ginger Boyd was delighted to receive an unsolicited plea from a language group to hold a seminar on noun classes. The Bafia Language Committee worked through Léonard-Albert Bolioki (Léo), who served as an intermediary between the Committee and SIL, to seek Ginger's services.
'The Committee members realized that they were in need of a bit of help in broadening their understanding of noun classes in general, and of their noun class system in particular', recalls Léo. 'Because they knew that I had some knowledge of linguistics, and that I had interacted with SIL linguists in the past, they asked me for help. That's when I told them about Ginger'.
The session was planned, and Ginger began brushing up on published materials regarding noun classes in Bafia. (Gladys Guarisma, a French linguist, has engaged in significant linguistic analysis of Bafia.) Two weeks later, she made the three-hour trip from Yaoundé to Bafia to meet with the Bafia Language Committee.
'Our conversation initially centered on noun classes', recounts Ginger, 'but after touching on affixes marking noun class, but appearing on other parts of speech, we delved into some interesting related issues like word division and orthography. The Committee really wanted to consider the issues comprehensively and carefully. It was a pleasure to spend several hours with these distinguished ladies and gentlemen reflecting on some of the intricacies of their language'.
The Committee has expressed its desire to hold additional seminars with Ginger on topics to be determined by its members' pursuits in the service of the Bafia language community.
'I would wholeheartedly welcome the opportunity to spend another afternoon in Bafia', affirms Ginger. 'A stimulating discussion of a fascinating language with delightful people? Count me in!'