Well, we’ve shared a bit about what last semester looked like and what we’re expecting the next few weeks, but one thing we’re finding is that many people aren’t sure what a linguist is/what our purpose is and how we fit into a missionary team.
I can start off by letting everyone know that we are not experts in languages (quite honestly, one semester doesn’t make anyone an expert of anything, right?). We also didn’t spend that time learning a particular language. That whole language learning process is actually quite different, and is reserved for when we actually get to our field of service (it’s such a great opportunity to make friends with people, as you’re learning their language and they get to see that missionaries don’t know it all 🙂 )
What we’ve done is learn how languages work, and gotten a taste of all the crazy (to our minds) twists that languages can take. We get to discover which word order a language uses, how they make words plural, what components are required in words and which ones are optional (as in gender, number, quality, etc), even what sounds are important in their language, and which sounds they only think they are saying (ever think you’re saying a “t” in the middle of the word “butter”?).
The thing I’ve found most overwhelming, and also found a deep appreciation for, is the huge variety God has created in languages, but the incredible order He has built into them as well. Though the task ahead is often overwhelming (and it should be if we’re expecting to do it on our own), we can see that God made languages with the same order that he created the rest of the world. There is a process by which He has allowed us to analyze languages to learn how they work so that His word can be shared with people who otherwise would never have the opportunity to hear.
So what is our purpose and how do we fit into our team? Our training in language analysis is most helpful in the beginning of the process, when language learning is still the priority. Figuring out how our language works will help the rest of our team in learning the language quicker, and with more accuracy (one of our biggest goals is to learn how to speak naturally, so that Bible teaching and translation will make sense to them, and we won’t be communicating something other than what we intend). After that point, we’re just like the other church planters on the team. We may or may not be the ones who do translation or teaching or literacy. Some may find it strange that we have an extra year of training for something that takes less than a year on the field, but the work of a linguist is vital to a team and the language learning process.
Though linguistics isn’t really helpful beyond that point within our own tribal language, there are many other teams working in tribes that do not have a linguist. Since we do not have to know a language to analyze it (we only need enough data/examples of sentences, words, phrases, etc), we are able to help out those teams as well. If things are smooth with our work and we can spare the time immersed in something other than our own work, we may just pop into some other work and help them along in their analysis.
I know there are probably other questions about what we are doing and why, so if you have any, let us know!