Words, words, words…

The last few weeks the Linguistics department have been running a Rapid Word Collection workshop in a nearby village called Mmazame. We were working with the Kabwa community (one of the language groups that we’re involve with here in Musoma), with the aim of collecting as many Kabwa words as possible!

The long-term aim is to create a dictionary from the resulting data. Making a dictionary is incredibly useful, not only because it helps to standardise the orthography (the way the language is written), aids literacy work and is an wonderful tool in translation, but it also raises the status and value of the language in the eyes of the wider community! (read more at: http://rapidwords.net/)


Here’s a summary of how the past few weeks went:

The first week was used to train a selection of the Kabwa participants how to write Kabwa, and also about how the word collection process works.


The training was reviewed at the start of week 2 for all of the participants.

The participants were split into 6 groups, with each group including a person who had attended the training:


We use a questionnaire that is divided up into 9 main sections (“semantic domains”), with each section divided into many gradually more specific sections.


An explanation of the way that the topics are divided up was included in the training.

We had translated the questionnaire into Swahili, which was printed out section by section and put into corresponding (colour-coded and labelled!) folders.
(My urge to colour-code will not come as a surprise to many of you…!)

Flex qus

The questions in the computer database.

colour coded

Don’t the colours make it look fun?!

folder labled

Each group was given a folder, and then discussed the enclosed topics and questions, writing down the Kabwa words that related to that topic:

printed questions

A printed questions sheet to prompt discussions in the word-collection groups.

words group

Intense discussions going on…

After the folder had been handed back, the words were counted.
It was fascinating which topics collected the most words: “Cattle” had 28 words, “Bird” had 53, but “Fish” only 14 … The Kabwa do not live on Lake Victoria; perhaps the language communities on the lake would have many more for “Fish” but fewer for “Cattle”?

The Kabwa word sheets were then passed onto a group of translators – Kabwa speakers with particularly strong Swahili – who wrote down the corresponding Swahili meanings:


Kabwa-Swahili word sheet

On the left, the Kabwa words; on the right, the Swahili definitions.

Next, the Kabwa-Swahili word sheets were passed onto the data-entry group (after the words had been counted, again!). We entered both the Kabwa word and corresponding Swahili “gloss” (definition) into the computer database, making sure the words went into the correct section of the questionnaire:

Flex word entry

data entry team

The word lists were then counted (again!) in case any alterations had been made.

At the end of each day, the groups would share some of their favourite Kabwa words, usually involving a lot of animated discussion and laughter!

sharing words

Some of my favourite examples were:
okunuura – to take your clothes off in a fit of rage.
ekinokonoko – the little corner part of your eye, next to your nose.


This process continued for two weeks, by the end of which 8880 words had been collected!!

word jar

We measured our progress throughout the 2 weeks using this jar-chart! It was exciting to see the total adding up.

On the Friday congratulatory speeches were given, and each participant was presented with a certificate and a few pages of the printed word-list:



The print-out of the word list

dictionary look

It already looks like a dictionary!

The fourth and final week of the workshop, we were a much smaller group, with only 8 Kabwa speakers.

This week was for checking and “cleaning” the data – removing any duplicates, trying to put words and phrases in the correct grammatical form for a dictionary, checking spelling …

corrected word list

A sheet corrected by the checkers.

At the end of all this we ended up with a final word-count of 6134 words!! Many of the entries include multiple senses of one word, so the number of definitions is even more!

There’s still a lot more work to be done with the data before an actual dictionary is published, but this was a pretty good start!


During the workshop we also had a number of other things happening …:

One day a member of the literacy team came and sold some books that have already been printed in Kabwa, as well as some of the other local languages. There was such a demand for them that we had to bring back more on the following days!

books crowd

What a crowd! And these are just the participants from the workshop!

book stall

The book stall.

Our vernacular media specialist also came to visit.
He was able to show and distribute various recordings in Kabwa, as well as other languages.



Selling CDs.

A couple of times he and someone from the translation department went to the local market, and were able to sell many books and CDs, often in exchange for fruit rather than money!

Wherever they went, they always drew a crowd:

Michiel and kids

There was also the opportunity for some recording.
Here he is working with the man who voiced the narrator in a recording of the book of Acts in Kabwa.


All in all, a very interesting, exciting and encouraging few weeks!

unusual paperweight

One day we found an unusual paperweight! Don’t worry, he soon went back outside.

lunch hangout

Our usual lunch-time hang-out location.


Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons …

not as in the nursery rhyme (for the English among you!).

Rather as in the wonderful fruit trees we have in our garden here: a machenza tree (tangerines, I think), three orange trees and a lemon tree.

The machenza season is just about over (they make incredible juice).
However, no need to despair because it’s lemon season now, and the oranges are just starting to appear as well.

This is what we collected this weekend:

oranges, lemons

Although they look a little strange compared to the ones I usually find at home, with them we made some delicious lemonade (which was so delicious that I forgot to take a picture … whoops, next time!).

The book of Genesis in Ikizu.

Last week I had the huge privilege of attending the official celebration of the book of Genesis in the Ikizu language!


“The book of Genesis – in Ikizu and Sizaki”

There were a number of speeches, and songs and dances from the choir:


This was a great celebration for the Ikizu translators. They have been working on this for over three years!

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People were able to hear the book of Genesis read in Ikizu in public for the first time:

There was the opportunity for people to buy their own copy of Genesis, as well as some other books already printed in the local languages.

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It was wonderful to see so many people of all ages engaging in God’s word in their mother tongue.

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Please be praying for the Ikizu, not only that these books of the Bible would be used and read, but that they would bring people into a closer relationship with their Creator God.