Set Ups for a Language Hunt

The hardest part of hunting Chinuk is easily the most rewarding at the same time – much like the three mile “marathon” going on next week that Sky has convinced me is worth doing for the t-shirt, if nothing else. Coming into the WAYK team already having spent a couple of years learning ASL has been both a blessing and a curse. Sign language is a very useful technique for providing a visual cue for new language learners, including those who don’t necessarily have any prior knowledge of any sign language, but for me it has the potential to be a fairy-smashing machine. I have already encountered Chinuk words that I have struggled with conceptually. I have felt the need to put the Chinuk concept into a box of the same shape and size of a similar concept in ASL and, by extension, matching words one-to-one with my English brain. For some people, maybe this is a perfectly acceptable way to learn a language.  But catching a glimmer of how a Chinuk idea can unite two English ideas that I previously considered opposing concepts is enough to make someone a Chinuk junkie (as Robyn was recently accused of being, when she was not ready to give up explaining precisely how Full she was, in Chinuk).

WAYK Set Up GameThe best way to avoid this conceptual one-to-one mapping (AKA Fairy Killing) has been to avoid using my ASL whenever possible and pretend as though the signs Evan, Susanna, and Sky use are not the ASL I know, but another sign language entirely – a sign language that means nothing at all to me. With Set Ups this is entirely doable. The more Robyn and I practice Set Ups, the better we are getting at making them, and we’re only a couple of weeks into learning now. It’s already getting easier to explain the piece of language I’m hunting, and I can’t even imagine yet how much better at it both Robyn and I will be by the end of the summer intensive.

I’m also starting to see how learning how to set something up rather than rely on a translation (as I was used to in my high school French class, or often in my linguistics classes) is going to affect me as a student of specific languages (such as with Chinuk) as well as a linguistics student, whenever it is that I have another opportunity to do field work. While translation works for many linguists, I’m seeing how Set Ups can work as the most universal way to get data, and most accurately and appropriately conduct research with a given language. So even though ASL could help me along with learning Chinuk right now, I think it is most important for me to learn to rely on the Set Ups. This is especially true right now – in the WAYK house here on St. Paul, I’m surrounded by people who want me to hunt from them, and who have either just as much or way more background than I do in using Set Ups.

One habit I’ve picked up while I’ve been on St. Paul Island has been making bad acronyms for things we do that spell out the word “S.E.A.L.” As such, the acronym of the day? “Set ups Excellent, Always Learning!”

Post authored by Casey.

Written by Evan Gardner