Articulatory Efficiency

You have no idea what that title means, do you? I only have the vaguest idea myself. But I want to tell a nice story having to do with that concept.

Trouble is, no one will understand this story. That being the case, I’m just going to omit the very interesting details and just give the big picture summary instead.

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, Dr. Ken Pike was thinking some deep thoughts about language and expressing them in such a way that few mortals could understand.  Twenty years later, in another far-away country Dr. Gary Simons was learning to speak Toaba’ita, analyzing its pronoun system, and comparing that pronoun system to that of neighboring languages.  Gary then wrote a working paper using Ken’s ideas which he had learned while being Ken’s teaching assistant at SIL summer school.

Then in an even different far-away country, at a time long ago, a colleague read Gary’s paper, and in 2014 remembered what he had read and thought it might help to understand a knotty complex phonology system of a language in Australia. He passed on the concept to the latest person in a decades-long list of missionaries and linguists who had tried but failed to understand the phonology of this language.  And since no one could figure out the phonology, that meant no one could come up with a workable orthography.  And of course, without an orthography, a language will never see a translation of anything.

Skip to the end:  it worked!!  The concept of articulatory efficiency, first thought of by Ken Pike in the 1960s and then written about in 1980 by Gary, turned out to be exactly what this language needed to make sense of the phonology patterns and then a workable orthography was produced.

And to end the story, this colleague took the time to write up this story (in its detailed, specific form) and send it to us by email.  He ended this way:

So you never know when your struggles will one day pay off big time for someone else down the track.  The Anindilyakawa people are about to benefit from what you did back then.  Thanks for sticking with it in the hot uncomfortable Pacific.

S1976-83 0000


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