From January 11 to February 3, 2017, a Rapid Word Collection workshop was held for the Ikizu and Sizaki peoples of the Mara region of Tanzania. (Since their languages are very closely related, they are hereafter referred to as Ikizu-Sizaki). During the word-collection phase, the participants gathered 13,504 raw lexical items and this number was refined down to 7,435 after the automatic merging of similar items done by the FLEx computer program and the cleanup week of the workshop.
Preparation for the Workshop:
In preparation for the Ikizu-Sizaki RWC, several meetings were held in Nyamuswa. The first was held in a small private meeting room in November of 2016 and consisted of a majority of the members of the Ikizu-Sizaki Language Committee, the two Ikizu-Sizaki Bible translators (Rukia and Ismael), the Partnership Officer for the Mara region SIL office (Jonathan), and the Workshop Consultant (Johnny). The aim of this meeting was to present the idea of developing a dictionary and to get a list of names of potential participants for the workshop. About a month later, the second meeting gathered together all those selected to participate in the workshop and allowed them the chance to choose which participants would fill which roles in the workshop. This meeting took place at the Tambuka meeting hall, which is later where the workshop itself was held. This meeting also raised some important financial issues that were able to be dealt with prior to the workshop and also showed that several of the participants already had valuable experience with the orthography.
For the success of the workshop, it was deemed necessary to get some extra support from SIL staff. Since the Mara office did not have enough staff to assist with the workshop, two employees (Frank and Hazel) from Mbeya were invited and able to attend. This is building into capacity for the future by training them in the RWC principles.
Training Week (January 11 to January 13, 2017):
The training week was a success as the participants invited for those days showed a great amount of drive and interest in learning the word-collection principles. Johnny, who was consulting on his second RWC, saw that he was able to be much more effective in the training this time around due to lessons learned after his first consulting experience. Several of the other SIL staff (Frank and Ismael) were also able to teach various sessions during the training, and it was encouraging to see the positive ways they interacted with the participants. At times, discussions went into details that were unhelpful for preparation for the RWC, but even during these discussions it was evident that the Ikizu-Sizaki people love their language and are willing to work carefully to develop it.
One other thing to highlight from the training week was the fact that the Workshop Manager (Andrew) and Logistics Manager (Rukia) were able to pinpoint several participants who were weak in the role of translator and switch them into roles as group leaders or scribes prior to the word collection itself. This undoubtedly had an impact on the productivity of the workshop.
Word Collection (January 16 to January 27, 2017):
The Ikizu-Sizaki RWC was officially opened by a local government official who is himself Ikizu. He expressed the fact that he was encouraged by the workshop because he had been under the impression that Ikizu was not being developed and would eventually die out. He encouraged the participants by reminding them how much of ancient history is known because those cultures took time to write things down in their languages. With writing, the language and culture are preserved in ways that cannot happen otherwise.
As the word-collection portion of the workshop progressed, it was evident that the groups were working hard and adding many new items to the lexicon each day. At the end of each day, the group who had collected the most lexical items (and even the group who had collected the most items per domain) were honored with a round of applause. Groups 1 and 3 consistently competed for the honor of the day. During the course of the word collection, all the folders in domains 1 through 8 (except for one which turned up missing) were discussed, glossed and entered into the computer. The missing folder was later able to be dealt with during the cleanup week. Domain 9 was not accessible since it had not yet been translated into the LWC (Swahili), but even so there was little time remaining to deal with additional folders.
Some of the challenges that emerged during the workshop involved technical issues. First of all, one of the computers being used for data entry started working so slowly that it was no longer usable. This meant that several of the data entry participants had to rotate in and out of using another one of the computers. Secondly, the portable printer that was originally supposed to arrive in country for the workshop was delayed on several occasions and did not actually reach Nyamuswa until the afternoon of the penultimate day. It did come in very useful for the final day of the workshop, but any printing done prior to its arrival was a challenge (and usually had to be done over the weekends at the main SIL office while the Consultant was back in Musoma).
At an official closing ceremony, another local government official who loves his Ikizu mother tongue encouraged the participants to continue developing their language. He presented a vision for the future development of the Ikizu-Sizaki language that involved building a community center where locals and tourists alike could come and learn about the history, culture and language of the Ikizu and Sizaki peoples. The center would be a place for community gatherings, language learning, and a bookstore to sell available literature in the language. The participants (as well as the SIL staff) received this idea excitedly and have already started taking steps toward making this a reality.
Cleanup Week (January 30 to February 3, 2017):
It was decided that the Cleanup Week of the workshop would be held back in Musoma at the SIL office, which ended up saving some money since only half of the participants involved in the cleanup needed lodging. The Ikizu-Sizaki spelling experts were chosen from the best participants at the workshop and were able to go through all of the printed lexicon in 4 days and then have some extra time to deal with the missing folder from domain 8 that had not yet been entered into the database.
Another encouraging idea that came out of the Cleanup Week was that of an Ikizu-Sizaki Dictionary Committee. Several of the participants in the workshop had expressed a need for developing mother-tongue terminology for modern terms like “computer”, “television” and “radio” rather than just using borrowed words for these concepts. It was decided that the decision for inclusion of such neologisms in the dictionary should be made by a committee that would research them well prior to recommending them. This committee is merely in the idea stage at this point, but it could be a wonderful way to encourage continued language development amongst the community.
Conclusions and Looking Forward
Overall, the Ikizu-Sizaki RWC far exceeded expectations, not only in terms of number of lexical items gathered, but also in terms of the other language development ideas that were generated by the workshop. SIL hopes to continue working with the community to see how ideas like a community center and a dictionary committee can become realities. There are already plans in place for hiring on a part-time dictionary worker to continue editing the database so that online and print versions of the dictionary can be available within the next one and a half years.