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Publication of Mbula-English Dictionary celebrated on International Mother Language Day, 21 February

Mbula-Engish Dictionary (21 February 2008) A celebration event for the completion of the Mbula-English Dictionary was held in Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea (PNG). "Today is the International Mother Language Day. This is a very appropriate time to come together to celebrate a first-time dictionary," said Dr. René van den Berg, Linguistics Consultant with SIL-PNG. Mbula is spoken by 4,500 people on Umboi Island, and is one of more than 800 languages in PNG.

The large 742-page, 3,800-entry, dual-language book is the first comprehensive dictionary of an Oceanic language produced by SIL-PNG. SIL linguists, Salme and Robert Bugenhagen, Ph.D., worked on the dictionary over a 25-year span as a part of their language research activities.


Giamsa Apei working with Salme Bugenhagen on the Mbula dictionary.

Giamsa Apei working with Salme Bugenhagen on the Mbula dictionary.

"The elementary school teachers have been asking, 'When will we have a dictionary?' They are supposed to teach, but they themselves are sometimes unsure how to write the language because they were trained in English (one of the three national languages of Papua New Guinea), and the Mbula language has only been available in written form in the last twenty years. Teachers need to know how these words are spelled," explained Salme Bugenhagen. "The young people who are in school are asking for this as well. The use of the mother tongue is very strong in the area. All of the children learn to speak Mbula. Because English is not normally used in the villages, they often find it difficult to express themselves in English, so this will help them to transition from Mbula to English for their further education."

'A dictionary increases the language's prestige,' stated Linguistics Consultant Dr. René van den Berg, at the celebration.

"A dictionary increases the language's prestige," stated Linguistics Consultant Dr. René van den Berg, at the celebration.

According to van den Berg, "A dictionary increases the language's prestige. Many village people think their language isn’t really a language until they have a dictionary they can take off the shelf and say, 'Look we have a language. It's now in writing.'" Dictionaries are also important to communities for literacy efforts, for translation activities and for anthropological research and reporting. "The international world will welcome this work," van den Berg said, explaining that many universities and linguistic researchers see dictionaries as an archive of the language and culture of a people. "This book has extensive anthropological notes. You can do quite a bit of ethnography just by looking through the examples."

Dr. Robert Bugenhagen stated, "We included examples for every entry to illustrate how the words are used in the life of the community. These are very revealing of the Mbula people's culture." For example, the entry for the suffix used to indicate the showing of respect includes seven applications:

Mbula-Engish Dictionary Example Page

Mbula-Engish Dictionary Example Page; Click to view a larger version

-pou3 V_Intr/Tr -show respect, demonstrate respect by behaving properly, respectful, act respectfully note: Some cultural ways of showing respect are:


SIL linguists, Salme and Robert Bugenhagen

SIL linguists Salme and Robert Bugenhagen

Mbula-Engish Dictionary Title Page In the process of preparing the dictionary, the Bugenhagens made additional discoveries about the Mbula language. Mbula speakers from various villages contributed to the dictionary project since much of the final dictionary work was done in a village some distance from the area the Bugenhagens conducted most of their linguistic research. It was then the linguists realized just how much words vary within the Mbula community, even within the three major dialects. "We left flora and fauna as a separate section at the end because they exhibit even greater variation from village to village," explained Salme Bugenhagen.

The dictionaries will be available for purchase in April or May of 2008 from SIL-PNG's Language Resources Department Book Distribution Section, email . The price has not yet been set.


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