Slaying the Beast of Tone: Two Week Tone Workshop Starting Tomorrow

Our greatest enemy in the Bakoum language is hands down the fact that it carries its meaning in how high or how low one’s voice is. That’s right, it is a tonal language. And so far this great enemy is more-or-less defeating us. I believe that it is because of tone that we are not yet able to tell Bible stories in Bakoum to the children in our village. We have the right words, but we simply read the words using the wrong tones.

I wonder if there is anyone who can tell me the difference between column A and column B:
Column A                                                                         Column B
a ke                        “he will go”                                         a ke                        “he has gone”
pulo me no             “it rained”                                           pulo me no             “it is not raining”
jakuwa                    “to pay”                                              jakuwa                   “to say goodbye”
ko                           “tree”                                                   ko                           “navel”
We plan to teach the participants how
use the International Phonetic Alphabet to
write out their words. We hope they are
as excited as Zoey.
Like most non-tonal-language-speakers, when we hear words, we hear them in function of their consonants and vowels and more-or-less ignore the pitch of our voices. But for speakers of tonal languages, the consonants and vowels need to be right, along with how high or low one’s voice is in order for meaning to be conveyed. The above examples have exactly the same consonants and vowels but their meanings differ simply due to tone.
Tone Workshop
I was lamenting over this thorn in my flesh with a seasoned missionary-linguist when she offered to help. I eagerly accepted her offer and so tomorrow we will start a two week workshop with 5 Bakoum speakers. We are praying that by the end of the workshop we will have a good grasp on how the tone in this language works so that we will be able to hear it, speak it and write it correctly.
Pray with us for a successful workshop!
These next two weeks will be a lot of work and I image that our heads will fill like they are going to explode by the end of the day. Please pray with us that…
  • The participants would all be humble and that there would be a spirit of unity among all involved.
  • That the Lord would grant intelligence to all of us.
  • That Dave and I would grow in our ability to speak and understand Bakoum through these next two weeks.
  • That our kids would seek to be servants to our house guests and those in the workshop as we will be sharing meals together.
  • And, the biggest prayer request of all would be that we would CONQUER tone. That it would no longer have mastery over us but that we would have mastery over it.

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.