Lorenzo came over around 0600 on Saturday morning, and we took a hike up Mount Medeqdeq north of Colonia.
Tropical mornings never cease to amaze me. I remember my first few
trips to Honolulu when I lived in Hilo and I would wake up before dawn
to go walking on the beach. There is a freshness to the air that exists
at no other time of day – a new day is fresh with possibilities. The
usual big-city buzz — traffic, the hum of electrical lines, the
chatter of people seated in cafes, facing the water, airplanes droning
overhead, off to destinations in the Outer Islands, Asia, and the
Pacific — is less at dawn and builds as the day progresses.
There is no hum in colonia. I live on the busiest street here, and
during the height of the day, perhaps 40 cars an hour pass in front of
the house. At night, I've woken up, lying in bed, listening to the
rain, and there are no cars. There are no barking dogs. The only rowdy
beings are misguided chickens that begin crowing at 0200. Eventually
they figure out that dawn won't be coming for another 4 hours, and they
quit. The level of quiet is absolutely unreal.
I've been sleeping exceptionally good – in fact, on the average of 8
hours a night, which for me is unheard of. I'm withdrawing badly needed
sleep from the bank, and for the past two weeks have been sleeping very
soundly. I put my head on the pillow, and I wake up 8 hours later with
no waking up in between – I haven't slept like this in years. And I've
been having very intense dreams about nothing in particular.
Lorenzo is one of my language consultants. He's a friendly man in his
early forties, educated, and speaks English very well. He and I have
been working on a translating a Satawalese text entitled “Fioangon
Meram me Aenet” 'The story of the Sun and the Moon.' It's about nine
pages long, and we've done about 4 pages so far, and it's a
cliff-hanger on every page! I can't wait to work on more of it to see
what happens. By the way, working with texts is a fine way to find out
more about how language works. It's one thing to elicit sentences like
“My uncle has a red pencil box” or “His fishhook is bigger than mine.”
Of course, those sentences serve a purpose, but one can get a lot of
data by reading and working through texts. Or so I'm going to argue in
my MA thesis!
Lorenzo and I are climbing up the hill. We fall silent as we pass
through a Yapese village. The road to the summit is a common path, and
one doesn't need permission to use it, but we respect the Yapese by
postponing our conversation until their buildings are behind us. Both
of us used a fair amount of insecticide before this trek- Lorenzo says
that even though Dengue might be going away, “it's always better to use
precautions” so I heed him – and he heeds his own advice. Midway, we
look back, and the bay and ocean are glassy, or 'Nupupup' in Satawalese
- I make a mental note to enter the word into Shoebox. By the way, I am
trying every trick in the book to remember words and phrases here, and
I'm still struggling a bit with the Ssatawalese sound system, partly
because of the orthography – the writing system – used to represent it.
The Satawalese orthography has adopted the following digraphs (two
graphemes, or characters that represent a single sound) to represent
the Satawalese vowels:
Here's a copy of the International Phonetic Association's vowel chart
that attempts to represent the major vowels in most of the world's
hyperlink to sounds
oa – open-mid back rounded vowel like the au in 'caught' or if you're looking at
a cute baby, kitten or puppy 'Aaawwww….” – the backward c on the chart
iu – a high central unrounded vowel (no English example, sorry!) – the i with a line through it in the middle of the chart
ae – the vowel between the Open-mid and Open vowel that sounds like
'sat' – on the chart above, it looks like an a and e stuck together
eo – a middle central rounded vowel – looks like this
Satawalese also has short and long a,e,i, o, and u which I'm okay with.
Follow the hyperlinks to hear the sounds.
Satawalese is an intensely vowelly language. While trying to wrap my
tongue around their words, at the same time I'm trying to train myself
to read their orthography to produce the sounds above, and it's hard.
They have three consonant sounds that are tricky – a trilled “spanish'
r, a retroflex r (not quite how a person from India would say it but
different from the American r – perhaps how a very distinguished pirate
would say it – Arr! Arr!), and the ng sound (like in sing) – the ng
isn't hard to produce – what's hard about this one is distinguishing it
from the regular n in fast speech. I'm sure Filipino speakers and
Indonesians would have no problem – then again, Filipinos sometimes
have trouble distinguishing between /f/ and /p/, Germans between /v/
and /w/, Japanese between /l/ and/r/… This reminds me of Arrerente
speakers in Australia, who distinguish between dental and palatal /t/s
- almost impossible for English speakers to hear, though Victoria
Anderson can produce both effortlessly and tried to teach me in her
phonetic field methods class how to produce them myself, which I
eventually did, but trying to dinstinguish them hearing them uttered by
someone else was impossible – and so it goes.
Oh, and satawalese has a p, pw, m, and mw sounds – again, the pw and mw
are digraphs representing a rounded p and m respectively – Satawalese
words pwin 'brother of' and pin 'taboo' may sound the same to
untrained ears, but are very distinct to Satawalese.
So you see kids? Every language has something wild and wooly.
Back to Lorenzo. He's been living on Yap for about 7 years. He
supervises the administration of schools on Satawal, Elato, and
Lamotrek here on Yap, and makes occasional field visits. Though we are
separated by about 10 years in age, we think a lot alike. He tells me
about life on Satawal, and how it's changed, and how it's remained the
same. A microwave tower was erected on Yap last Friday, and by sometime
next week, Satawal gets email! They won't have the Web for awhile, but
from what I understand, email will be routed through Guam to here – a
guess it's a matter of time before the Web DOES make it there, though.
[I'd much rather have the Web available to them than cable TV] Satawal
has a computer lab with 10-12 stations, all running on solar. It has a
well-equipped clinic, and the Chuukese travel to visit Satawal's
I asked him dozens of questions about his life. He's one of those guys
that has a firm foot in two worlds – the Western and his own, though I
think he has a softer spot in is heart for Satawal. He reads novels,
and loves to hear Satawalese, Ulithian, and Woleaian singing and chants
(I played him my CD entitled “Spirit of Micronesia”). Though he wears
shorts and T-shirts, I think he'd rather be wearing a thuw – they're
more comfortable anyway. If I wouldn't burn like a crisp, I'd wear a
thuw every day – on Satawal I probably will wear one. He showed me how
to tie it.
He told me what work detail is like on Satawal – men show up at the
men's house in the morning, pour themselves a cup of coffee, and sit
down to discuss the day. Work details are written up (though it sounds
like any work unit that's got stuff to do – it really reminded me of my
kibbutz days, especially the coffee ritual, which in Israel was a very
long and pronounced preparation activity beginning with the igniting of
the Samovar – I'll spare you the countless details that followed)