The Enga language is very challenging for English speakers to learn. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out which of the seven words for ‘is’ to use in any given situation.
Greetings from the village of Immi in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea! We are nearing the end of our five-week stay here, and we have enjoyed the opportunity to really dive in to learning the language and culture of Enga.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Enga language to master has been the word ‘is’. You would think such a basic word would be easy, but we have discovered that there are seven ways to say ‘is’, which is based on how Engan people perceive different beings and things.
For example, if you want to say, “A man is outside,” you must say, “A man standsoutside.” But if you want to say, “A woman is outside,” you must say, “A woman sitsoutside.” That is because in Engan culture men are usually standing and women are usually sitting. If you want to say, “A baby is outside,” you must say, “A baby liesoutside.” Of course babies are usually lying down.
If you want to say, “There is a river,” you must say, “A river comes.” To say, “There are mushrooms in the forest,” you would say, “Mushrooms hang in the forest.” To say, “There are clouds in the sky,” you use the same Enga word that means ‘to hear’. (I haven’t figured that one out yet!) Finally, to describe the existence of body parts, you use the word that means ‘to carry’.
Now to make matters worse, if you want to say, “There is a woman,” and you see that she is actually standing and not sitting, then you can’t say, “A woman sits.” You must say, “A woman stands.”
It is clear that the Engan people perceive the world differently than we do, but we rejoice that God can use those differences to make His Word become alive for all!
I have encountered similar reactions all over town whenever I speak in Enga. When I stop to speak with someone in town, I soon have a crowd of people around me who are fascinated to hear a ‘kone’ speaking Enga! People have literally squealed with joy at hearing me speak Enga!
The reactions are not the same when we speak in Tok Pisin, which is the main trade language of Papua New Guinea. Many foreigners can speak Tok Pisin. But there are few foreigners that take the time to learn Enga!
Now, if people get that excited to hear a ‘kone’ speaking a few words of broken Enga, imagine how excited they will be to hear the very word of God in Enga! Learning someone’s language tells them that you value them, and I believe that when people hear the Word of God in their own language, they will experience the love of God in a unique and powerful way!
A look at some other ways in which the Enga language differs significantly from English...
I (Adam) was sitting with Ruben, my language guide, one day when I heard pigs squealing. So I said, “Mena dupa kaa lelyamino” (The pigs are squealing). I was surprised when he corrected me and said, “Mena dupa kaa lalumino” (I sense that the pigs are squealing). Because I could not actually see the pigs, I could not plainly state that pigs were squealing. Rather, I had to use a form of the verb indicating that I sensed (in this case by hearing) that pigs were squealing. Engan culture must value the difference between eye-witness testimony and hearsay!
There is no single word in Enga for the English word ‘want’. In order to say, “I want to go home,” you would say, “Namba andaka patoo lao masilyo,” which literally means, “I am thinking, saying, ‘Let me go home.’” Now if you want to say, “He wants to go home,” you would not say, “He is thinking, saying, ‘Let him go home.’” Instead you would say, “He is thinking, saying, ‘Let me go home.’” So it is like you are describing the thoughts that he is saying to himself in his mind.
We commonly think of the English language as having three tenses: past, present, and future. Enga has six tenses: far past, near past, immediate past, present, immediate future, and far future. So if you wanted to say, “I went home,” the verb form you would use would depend on whether you went home earlier that same day, the day before, or two days before. Similarly, if you wanted to say, “I will go home,” the verb form you would use would depend on whether you were going home that same day or the next day.
We return to Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands Province on February 12. After three weeks in Ukarumpa, we will spend three weeks in Lae fulfilling a group service requirement. After returning to Ukarumpa again in April, we will mentor a team of Engans who will spend five weeks completing the annual Translators’ Training Course (thanks to a generous donation from Newbreak Church in San Diego). Following this training, we will begin translating the New Testament into the central dialect of Enga, beginning (most likely) with the book of Mark!