Sunday, June 26, 2011

Maple, Oak, Ash, Cottonwood, and… Grammar?

This Papua New Guinean boy has it right! (Image courtesy of David Ringer)
I have always liked trees. Whenever I need to get away or think through decisions, I find myself seeking out solitude among trees—or better yet, in their branches. In college, I would scramble skyward, my homework in a backpack, and settle down without distractions (except for the angry squirrel or two). My decision to say yes to an assignment in Papua New Guinea was even made in a tree.

Yes, I like trees.

But I also like another kind—one that gets far more attention at SIL-UND.

This kind:
 Now, don’t get too literal. It doesn’t actually look like a tree. It more looks like an upside-down bush. But you can’t be too picky.

It's called a syntax tree. It’s used to diagram all the parts of a sentence and organize them in a logical fashion. Each time the lines split, it shows subsequent levels that are categorized within the level above. (Where the lines split is called the node. The top one is the mother node, and then the one below it is a daughter node or, if you travel horizontally, a sister node.  Sorry guys, I have never seen a masculine tree.)

If you are more of a math person, then let me explain the concept like this: remember those diagrams of factors? You know, the cheerful math book gives you a problem like, “factor 342” and then you have to break it down and break it down and break it down until you reach numbers that can’t be divided anymore (like 2 or 17).

We do the exact same thing with a sentence—starting with the biggest categories, such as subject or predicate, and breaking it down further until we specify what kind of adjective the word is, or whether or not it is plural.

Why do we do this crazy and wonderful thing, you ask? Because it helps us understand the structure of a sentence. Think of Hebrew which reads from right to left—we can still map it out and figure out how all the pieces work. There is even software that lets us do this on the computer! I have made upwards of 1500 trees over the years (that’s what happens when you TA for a college class dedicated to making trees).

Just think, you can even make trees about trees!

What could be better?

Monday, June 20, 2011

“V” as in “Victor”

Just before I left for SIL, I purchased my plane tickets. I must say, I’m pretty excited about this—to actually have an itinerary and know when I’m (supposedly) leaving and when I’m (supposedly) arriving makes this whole journey just a bit more concrete.

But, Minnesota to Papua New Guinea is a long flight. 25 hours, in fact, without layovers (and crossing the International Dateline doesn’t help either). It’s a good thing I like flying.

Here we are, on our backs, in a shell of the space shuttle...
Coming from a family of pilots and mechanics, I’ve always been surrounded by aviation—even before I was born. My first flight occurred when I was six weeks old, and I’ve flown so often since then that by grade school, I had memorized the entire flight safety talk that happens before take-off (you know, the one about the exits and the oxygen masks and what to do when the cabin loses lights). Navigating airport terminals seems rather natural and a close connection is simply an excuse to dive into the crowd of people, perfecting my high-speed weaving and dodging technique. My dad and I made it a tradition to visit the EAA Airshow in Oshkosh, WI as often as we could; for 10 days, it’s the busiest airport in the world with seemingly every type of aircraft you can imagine!

But, little did I know then that aviation could even impact my life through linguistics :)

Whenever I find myself standing in front a desk, giving my name to a receptionist, I automatically begin spelling… “R, I, V as in Victor, A, R, D.” When I was little, I thought this was how everyone gave their last name—didn’t everyone say as in Victor if they had the letter “v”? After all, if I don’t, inevitably there is spelling confusion.

When I was six or seven, I vividly remember the shock of hearing my paternal grandmother give her last name at a video store. “R, I, V as in Valentine, A, R, D.”

Valentine! Where did that come from? On that subject, where did Victor come from?

Victor is actually the word used to represent the letter “v” in the Aviation Phonetic Alphabet. Each letter corresponds to a word to prevent confusion when pilots and control towers are talking to each other.

Even pilots need linguistics!

As I now look ahead to a life lived in airports and traveling on tiny planes (the main means of transportation in PNG), I smile, seeing patterns the Lord established early in my life that could only be His design. 

Because, after all, I will always spell it as R, I, V as in Victor, A, R, D.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Flag Day!

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress adopted the official flag of the United States. Although, like most aging individuals, it has gone through a few modifications and expansions since then, for the most part, Old Glory looks much like the flag that received the nod of approval from our Founding Fathers.

Almost 200 years later in 1971, Papua New Guinea held a nationwide competition for the design of its own official standard. 15-year-old Susan Karike’s drawing stood out, and the design was adopted on July 1 of that year.

Red, black, and yellow are traditional colors of many Papua New Guinean people groups. Flapping across the upper right, the bird of paradise, or kumul, plays an important role in the social and cultural events of the country, and its plumes are often used in ceremonies. The cluster of stars on the black form the Southern Cross, which is a visible constellation in the night skies of the Southern Hemisphere. It represents PNG’s historical relationship with other nations of the South Pacific. The plumes of the bird of paradise trail high over the Southern Cross, symbolizing PNG’s emergence into nationhood (official in 1975).

Today, as we honor the red, white, and blue, I'm delighted to add black and yellow to the mix. Only a few more colors to go!

Monday, June 13, 2011

10 Things I've Learned

Yes, we practiced making phone calls with a banana at my training!
Partnership development and raising support has been one of the most multi-faceted experiences that I’ve participated in to date—and I’ve learned a great many things. For example, children often ask far more insightful questions than adults and GoogleMaps is useful for most of the way…but then abandons the driver on the final road, which can have dire results. Here is just a snapshot of ten things I’ve learned while support-raising the past eight months.

1. Always be sure to cross-check email addresses when you are simultaneously corresponding with multiple people who share the same first name.
Otherwise you might email a person four or five times, carrying on a lovely conversation, all the while getting more and more confused....because it's not the person who you thought she was!

2. It’s a good idea to confirm the date and time of your presentation several days before you are presenting....

Or you might find out two hours before the presentation was actually supposed to occur that you had the date wrong on your calendar for months ...and you live two hours away!

3. Try to determine where to point the handheld clicker for advancing your slides before your presentation…
.... unless you really enjoy frantically aiming the clicker all over the sanctuary and screen and sound box and ceiling looking for the elusive magic spot.

4. Remembering everyone’s name is virtually impossible.
Everyone will know your name, and you won't remember a single person of the 57 people you met that night. Just clasp hands warmly, smile, and exclaim, "It's so good to see you!!"

5. Make connections.

This is probably important anywhere, but in Minnesota, it’s vital. Any connection will do—even if it is your cousin's hairdresser's sister's dog-sitter. Once I spent the better part of two hours in a three-hour meeting making connections—and there were only five other people.

6. Always start conversations with the topic of The Weather.
“It’s been a pretty _<insert current meteorological trend>_ , hasn’t it?”

7. Try to surreptitiously watch while people inscribe their names on your sign-up sheet to see if you can read their handwriting.
Or, you could take a course in handwriting analysis to decipher some email addresses.

8. Wearing ethnic clothing is useful.

If you show up to an event thinking everyone will be in jeans and they happen to be wearing ties and dresses, then you won’t feel extremely underdressed and the epitome of a poor, starving missionary. In addition, no one else will likely be wearing such clothing, and everyone can easily find you after the service!

9. DexOnline or Google might not have the right mailing address.
Be forewarned before you send that thank you note…

10. Going to coffee for a support-raising meeting with a person of the opposite gender, can, to the clueless and unsuspecting missionary, turn into an accidental date.
Enough said.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Linguistics Rush Hour

In the game Rush Hour, your goal is to move the little red vehicle straight out of the grid. The catch is that there are other vehicles in the way…and they can only move forward or backwards. Thus begins a period of intense concentration as you move one piece forward to move another backwards to move another forward….
See the red car? It needs to travel all the way to the right.
Late Sunday night, my roommate, Jessica, and I played the game of Rush Hour…except, we were moving three beds, three desks, and three dressers plus all our luggage in a relatively small dorm room without blocking the window, three closets, or vital outlets. As quietly as we could, we scraped and heaved and shoved and attempted to measure with her quilt until we finally had wrestled things into an acceptable arrangement and tumbled into bed for much-needed sleep. It was, we decided, the first test of our summer at SIL
My attempt at a panorama to show our room from our door. The ceilings and floor don't really slope like that...
The Summer Institute of Linguistics (or SIL) is hosted by the University of North Dakota, on their campus in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It provides advanced training in linguistics and literacy, especially focusing on areas of language development and pioneering work in minority people groups (i.e.,  where do you start with a language that has never been written down?). It is nine intense weeks of listening to every sound imaginable (literally), reading textbooks written by internationally-renowned authorities (who also happen to be your professors), holding long discussions in the dorm hallways about syntax, and quizzing your lunch neighbors about how they pronounce aunt. The demographics are not the typical college campus—two-week-old babies, college freshmen, and 50-year-field experts live down the dorm hall from each other, and with less than 200 people total, relationships quickly develop as you eat, sleep, and brush your teeth together.

The dorms where many of us live
Goals of students vary widely, from Bible translation to MA theses to midwifery overseas to simply exploring the field. Dozens of countries and languages are represented, including a large deaf community from around the world. Opinions and religions vary, making for fascinating discussions and an enriching experience, since ultimately one thing draws us all together: a love of language.

What’s it like? For many, it’s like slipping on that perfect pair of Chacos after coming from a $2 pair of plastic flipflops from Walmart. Other sandals might do, but nothing is quite like that moment where you realize that you are among a family of colleagues who ask the same questions, think the same way, and are willing to spend hours alongside you picking apart a morphology for fun.

I had the opportunity to attend back in 2009, and now I’m returning at the graduate level for my final linguistic training before I head to PNG in August. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be back! This year I’m taking three courses:
  • Phonology—one instructor described this as the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) of language: we look at the results of sounds colliding, merging and interacting with each other and try to figure out what happened. <enter cool TV music>
  • Typology and Discourse—this is a two-part class, looking at the classification of phenomena in language (typology) as well as the analysis of larger blocks of text or speaking (discourse)
  • Field Methods—this course pulls everything together as we analyze a language in all its aspects and practice working as if we were on the field.
It's the cooley (the odd name for the creek running through campus)!
Of course, contrary to popular belief, we do other things than simply study (the volleyball and Dutch Blitz tournaments are pretty fierce here!), but the main purpose is to provide practical and applicable linguistic training at a very high standards for people around the world. The intensity might feel like rush hour sometimes, but the food is delicious, the people are amazing, the academics are stretching, and the growth (both spiritual and mental) is exponential.

It’s going to be a great summer!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chopstick + Chopstick = 100%

My various chopsticks...before I learned how to use them
I have always thought that there is something strange about keeping chopsticks on display in my room. It’s like keeping a bundle of forks or spoons on a shelf. Silverware is not meant for display—it’s meant to be a utensil.

I, unfortunately, had been unable to master the skills necessary to actually pick up rice or peas without cramping my fingers or contorting my wrists. So, the beautiful Japanese chopsticks given to me by my grandparents after serving in the Navy in Japan, have elegantly adorned my wall, sadly gathering dust.

But then, this past December, a friend took pity on me and set out to teach me the art of these instruments. “Catherine,” she said, “you have to stop moving both chopsticks. The bottom one has to stay still, you know. You can’t move it.”

A month later, my pastor pointed out what a beautiful illustration that chopsticks are of the missionary and the church.

If both remain completely stationary, then the only things that can be moved must be forced into the preconceived shapes.

If both move… well, I discovered how impossible that made eating nearly anything. I could, of course, resort to wielding just one chopstick, stabbing at food reminiscent of the Minnesota State Fair’s famous “food on a stick,” but that would be rather limiting, don’t you think?

But, when one chopstick—the church—remains stationary, it then provides a solid foundation from which the other moving chopstick—the missionary—can do its work.

One is useless without the other. As soon as I took her advice, I could immediately (and gracefully!) pick up all my food.

My faith goal for full financial support was June 5th—tomorrow. I am delighted to announce that due to your faithfulness and sacrifice, I have now reached 100% of my needed monthly financial support!

Thank you for being that foundational chopstick!

Because, in the hand of God, the possibilities for those chopsticks are beyond imagination.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Memorable Memorial Day

Memorial Day is historically a day for remembering. I know I will certainly remember this year’s—though not for the reasons it was originally created (however, a blog post on that will be forthcoming).

My infamous computer.
On Sunday night, I found my computer flashing warnings of a hard-drive malfunction that was reminiscent of a nuclear reactor meltdown. Memorial Day exploded into action as we attempted to control the virus before it ate through too many drivers and began stealing my bank and credit card information Two days, 25 hours of solid work, two different tech guys remoting in from around the country, an entire factory restore, and my computer finally was truly as innocent as it appeared. While two days of lost time may not seem like much, when you only had seven days to start with in which to fit everything associated with starting grad school and moving overseas… well, you can guess what these last days have been like :)

You can see the beginnings of the People Chain in this meeting
But, they would have been much more chaotic if not for the massive team of people that has brought everything together over the past months. In my longer talks, I love using an illustration called “the people chain,” which is able to visually show how many people are needed for one translation to be completed. Although I don’t have a stage to show you, I can type some names. Let me introduce you to the people you’ve been working alongside in helping me get to Papua New Guinea (beware, long post ahead).

Besides the fantastic people helping me this past week mop up my most recent computer mess, I’ve had dozens of highly skilled techy individuals come alongside me in so many ways—many of them anonymously sitting behind the sound systems, adjusting mikes, clicking through powerpoints and fiddling with projectors until everything falls into place. I think of the graphic designers, Caleb and Jennifer, who perfected my prayer card, Nate, who expertly designed a promotional video, and the many others, including Jana, Caleb, Nathan, and CJ, who have valiantly answered my plaintive cries for help regarding my computer or blog.

Speaking engagements are arranged by a plethora of people! Small group hosts such as Doug, Kathy, Holly and Steve, Dwight and Lori, Jonathon and Janet, Jenny, Kevin and Tracy, and Wendy open their homes and prepare delicious food. Advocates, who introduce me with open arms to their churches or groups, include such people as Terry and Cheryl, Gary, Dave, Stephanie, Val, Bruce, Stacy, Craig, Connie, Alyssa, Angela, Karla, Andrew, Nikki, Andrea, Kathy, and Laura. Missions committees, comprised of people like Mark, Tim, Scott, Liz, and Joan, diligently shepherd me through the process. Details are organized by administrative assistants, such as Ericca, Chris, Lisa, and Mary who answer every email with cheerfulness, and then I’m welcomed by such pastors as Marshall, Lanny, Paul, Larry, Dave, Steve, Jon, Mark, James, Vidal, Charlie, Bruce, Gerald, Ron, and Dave who flood me with their joy in the Lord.

I’ve driven thousands of miles, and when I arrive, hosts such as Louisa, Hope, and Mike and Kim’s family provide me with abundantly warm hospitality and clean towels. So many people have walked up and shaken my hand, hugged me, and offered me their love and a cup of water. Thank you—those small gifts are beautiful.

I think of the hundreds of my questions patiently answered by the sales clerks in REI, my travel agent Karen, the doctors who walked me through immunizations for PNG and gave me relief from bronchitis, and Eve and Zoriada, Wycliffe personnel who have organized many of my visa details. And how could I ever forget to mention my most faithful, patient, encouraging and tremendous coach and supervisor, Victoria, who has stood by me this past year? Betsy and Sarah graciously offered their wisdom in packing lists, while Tony, John, and Bruno have been heavily involved in all details of shipping, including the actual cross-country driving. Those necessary items for my life in Papua New Guinea were gathered by a beautiful group of people from my church, in a “sending shower,” which was organized by my sending church’s core support team—my encouraging Barnabas Group, comprised of the enthusiastic Sarah, Kathy, Paul, Elise, and Jill.

All of these people (and more!) are needed to let this woman hold a Bible in her own language

Older missionaries and mentors who have gone before, including Susie, Morris and Wendy, Laura, Betty, and Jacquie, have graciously sat down with me and known the right words to say at the right time. Other new missionaries in the same boat have laughed and sympathized when all I can do is shake my head—you all know who you are! I think of the SIL and NWC professors who have impacted me in ways far more lasting than simply a good education, and I treasure more than you realize all of those emails and notes and facebook messages shouted out by an army of encouragers.

I think of the over one hundred and fifty prayer warriors, including my precious Armor-Bearers, committed in coming before the Lord on behalf of this ministry—and the hundreds more who I don’t yet know, and who still lift me and the people of Papua New Guinea to the throne in prayer. You are our very foundation. Financially, so many of you have sacrificially offered gifts to the Lord, trusting in His provision for yourself and this ministry, and I can’t move forward without you.

I think of my family and the innumerable roles they have played, sacrifices they have offered, tears shed and laughter given... I could just keep naming so many more people that this post might never end (and I haven’t even left yet!). If you don’t see your name or contribution here, it’s not for lack of importance, but simply because I’m running out of room.

It’s good to remember.

And so, I think this Memorial Day is an appropriate time to remember and acknowledge just a few of these people. Thank you for being a part of the team working to place the Word of God in the hands of people in Papua New Guinea!
Image thanks to

Because, sometimes, viruses attack computers, and I need a tech person to help me out.