Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Documenting Unserdeutsch

By the time I went to PNG for the first time in 1979, I knew that I was going to be the first linguist to try to document Rabaul Creole German / Unserdeutsch. Through a colleague in Australia who had taught in Rabaul, I was able to swap houses and a car with an Australian teacher who was teaching in Rabaul.

This was my first experience with the wonderfully chaotic and generous world of expats in PNG. Generous because we had a big house and a car to use for three weeks, a real help in getting around the Gazelle Peninsula to interview people. Chaotic-- well, when we went to take a shower, we found that someone had forgotten his/her false teeth in the shower. I had a great image of someone going toothless for an entire trip to Australia....

Another teacher, Veronica, with ties to the Unserdeutsch-speaking community (her husband was of mixed German-PNG background) spent many days introducing people to me to interview.

I used two methods to get data. With some people I gave sentences in Tok Pisin or English and asked them to translate the sentences into Unserdeutsch. These sentences were chosen to try to see to what extent sentence structures and vocabulary were like either German or Tok Pisin. With other people I used some stimulus (a picture book or photos) to record an extended monologue or story.

The original tapes were deposited with the MGATA dialect tape collection at the University of Queensland library. The library threw the tapes out at some date when it decided to move the MGATA collection to another university. Luckily I hd made copies, but these were not kept in a good environment, and not all tapes were copied. Some of these tapes are now on the Unserdeutsch website discussed earlier.

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