Mzee Mbaso Rowili writing a Taveta story during the Taveta Orthography Workshop

Developing a language

Why does a community need their writing system developed?

To help them develop literature in and for their language.The developed literature helps them write materials for their social, intellectual, spiritual and economic needs both for personal and community’s gains.

Can a non- speaker of the language develop a language for a community?

Yes. A linguist can do this with the help of a language assistant from the target community. The language assistant helps the linguist in collecting the required linguistics data from the native language. After the collection is completed, the linguist analyses the words to get the actual sounds. If the linguist is not from the community, he/she confirms the collected and analyzed data with the community members and writes down the findings into a basic phonology of the language. This is then presented in a simplified way to a gathering of a cross section of the language speakers in an orthography workshop. This persentation includes issues to do with the language sounds, dialects, the language’s relationship with the neighboring languages and the trade language among others. The agreement from this meeting forms the first stage of orthography development called tentative orthography. In this orthography workshop, the community with the help of a linguist decides how to represent the sounds of their language for their ownership. If the community members confirm that the collected data to be of their language, they are adopted. If they differ in some ways, the linguist and the linguist assistant goes back to the field to refine there data now with the input from the workshop. These are then shared for verification in subsequent meetings. The other two stages are; working and established orthographies. Working orthography is arrived at after a detailed study of the phonology, which includes morphophonemics, segmentation, consonant clusters, tone and stress. It tests the tentative orthography and the reactions of the stakeholders. Established Orthography involves writing a paper documenting the community’s acceptance of the orthography. At this point the orthography is considered “finished.”

What are some of challenges you face as you develop a language into a written form?

The challenges vary for communities. A challenge in community A may be a strength in community B. Sometime back while collecting words sounds for a bantu community, I realized that they had borrowed word sounds from their Cushitic neighbors. I brought up this issue while presenting my findings during their orthography workshop. This turned out to be a big issue, community members being adamant that the ‘borrowed’ sounds existed in their language. This took quite some of our time and days trying to amicably find solutions.

How do you test a written language in a community that has never seen their language written before?

We use the alphabet chart and written stories, which are developed during the orthography workshop. The testing does not end at the orthography workshops. Other materials developed beyond the workshop act as testing tools for the language, for instance Scripture portions.

The alphabet Chart in Pokomo language

What kind of responses do you get from communities when you present them their alphabet with their languages written for the first time?

My first interactions with most communities that I have worked with to develop their languages, are usually inquisitive of my capability to develop such difficult languages as theirs. This narrative changes as soon as I present word sounds during the Orthography workshop. It gets better as we work together in developing their alphabet charts. In the year 2015, while working with the Taveta community, a 90-year-old man wrote an article for their storybook collection using the alphabets we had developed. He could not imagine that his language could be in a written form; him being at the forefront.

What current projects are being worked on?

Sengwer and Kabarasi projects. The two communities are at the tentative stages of orthography development and their alphabet charts are presently being printed to be distributed to the community for testing.

Does development of a language come to end?

Yes and No. This is an on-going process and only comes to an end if the initial need for it has been met. As a linguist, I do further researches in order to write papers on the grammar of the language.

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I long to hold the Chidigo Bible

Translation of the Chidigo Bible has come a long way. Through tough battles, God has held the translation team together this far. 76-year- old Pastor Shedrack Mwalonya, Project Advisory committee member relates to the hurdles well.

Pastor Mwalonya has been involved in Chidigo translation since its inception in the year 1987. He has chaired most of the community reviews of the books of the Bible. His passion for this work has been evident; taking lead in using the Chidigo New Testament to preach to his congregation. His devotion to the project saw him call the Project Officer from time to time to inquire of the progress of the translation and the anticipated time the Bible would be ready for his community. At his age, he says that the greatest gift he can leave to his children is the Chidigo Bible.

He believes that the Word of God is the solution to some of the key challenges facing the Digo people, for instance, Witchcraft, unbelief, poverty among others. Praise God for the far that He has brought the Digo project and the community. May God grant Pastor Shedrack long life to see and hear God speak to him in his language. Praise God for his goodness and what He is about to do among the Digo people.

The Bible is currently being printed and soon it shall be launched and dedicated. Alikpwe Jesu! Psalms 107:9 Mana nkumuusira chiru hiye ariye na chiru (nkumuhenda ariye na chiru atosheke), na kumvunisa manono hiye ariye na ndzala.

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I Keep my Sermons Simple

By Justus Mugambi

Two and half years ago, I was riding my motorcycle going round the region of Chuka inviting Christians to attend the Dedication of the Gospel of Luke in Gichuka. When I arrived at Ikuu Market, I heard a voice of a Pentecostal preacher thundering in the air, through two large speakers. You could tell that was the energy of a new preacher in town due to his command in very well polished English. I immediately rode towards that direction. I found Pastor William Muchai of KAG Church, Ikuu holding the microphone in a Lunch-Hour Fellowship. Peeping through the only window of the rented shop space, I could only see three women in the meeting. He later attended the Dedication Ceremony, and we became close friends; he even joined our Oral Bible Stories (OBS) Ministry.

One day he visited us in the office and he shared his experience as an evangelist and Pastor. “I thought that it was very easy to plant a Church. But after one full year, I managed to get a handful converts.” He narrates to us, while seeping a cup of tea. He felt ashamed to mention the actual number of converts. But I kept on probing, “How many?” Then he whispered “Four.” He explained that every Sunday he would preach to his wife and their firstborn child, who was still a toddler, amidst many vacant plastic chairs. Despite the small number, he would still use his microphone and his large speakers, so that his voice could reach the entire Ikuu Market.

When people saw his persistence, they would go to his church just ‘to taste’ the Gospel. He kept wondering why many people attended the Church only once and never to be seen again. He could only blame the enemy and his demons. After attending the OBS Workshop, he was tasked by the trainers to use the OBS skills in his preaching.

He used the Gichuka Book of Luke in his sermon. After that sermon, several people who listened to his teachings came and told him, “Your sermon was very powerful. Keep using our language.” Some of them accepted Christ. He realized that the reason why people attended his service once, and they never returned was due to language barrier. He had thought that preaching in a foreign language was some ‘swag’ or sophistication. Ever since, he only uses his mother tongue, Gichuka, in his preaching. “I have learnt to keep my sermons simple,” Concluded the Pastor.

The Church has grown tremendously. The members of the Church even bought a piece of land and built their own Church building and relocated from the rented shop in Ikuu market. Every time I pass through their new Church early mornings, before 6.00 a.m, I see the lights on and the believers having their morning devotions. I always thank God for them.

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