Monday, December 22, 2008

Finding stories in daily life

While touring the National Museum in Jakarta's Taman Mini, we came across this alphabet chart of local scripts. Our cabbie was along for the tour and told us that there was a story associated with the alphabet. Using the consonants plus a vowel sound, a simple CV syllable pattern, a story was told about two great personages fighting it out till the death, something like a struggle between good and bad, with no positive resolution. What astounded us was not so much the story, but that it was tied to learning these alphabets, and that the cabbie, who learned it as a boy still remembered the story and the alphabets. There are several alphabets pictured here. I guess it goes to show how powerful stories can be as memory enhancers.
PS. Thanks for reading this blog and your encouraging remarks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blog Action Day - Poverty

I've just learned that tomorrow, October 15 is 'Blog Action Day' on Poverty, a day for bloggers to highlight world poverty. Where does one begin when addressing world poverty?! I recently traveled to South Asia during the monsoon season. It wasn't too bad while we were there, but a couple weeks later local inhabitants of Bihar and southern Nepal were deluged by the rains and Kosi River. Thousands were evacuated, lost their homes, lost their lives, livelihood and are still facing the aftereffects of flooding and disease. We might read about this in a buried section of the newspaper, most likely not. It's not the focus. World news as broadcast by US news is taken captive by elections and financial upheaval news. So, here's a chance to think, pray or do something for the poor and suffering.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New orality newsletter - Accuracy, Fidelity, Stability?

Janet Stahl just published a new newsletter on the topic of accuracy, fidelity and stability - having to do with changes that happen when stories are retold and the role played by community and collective memory.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oral Traditions Graduate Course at GIAL

Dr Karl Franklin is heading another graduate course called Oral traditions and Literature from August 22 through October 17, 2008 at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in South Dallas.

The course will include the following topics:
  • the perception and power of storytelling
  • storytelling in knowledge-based organizations
  • cultural aspects of storytelling (including history and folktales)
  • encouraging and evaluating language viability through storytelling
  • semantics and storytelling - determining what a story means
  • Bible storytelling
  • storytelling in drama, music and other media
  • storytelling as an integral part of language development

Storytelling book by Karl Franklin

Dr Karl Franklin has just posted an online book on storytelling and oral traditions. It's something he's been developing as a result of teaching a graduate course on oral traditions. Karl has looked at storytelling and oral traditions having worked with Papuan languages for over 35 years.

Happy reading.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Your (sg, pl?) story

I've been ruminating on this topic of 'your story' for the past week after reading one recent post on Anecdote, 'Revealing Character' by Shawn. The post, 'Revealing Character' addresses our two sets of stories: those that reveal our character and those that show what motivates me. The first kind of story answers the question “Who am I?” and the second kind answers the question “Why am I here?” I believe that we vary these stories based on our audience and situation and what aspect of our character we want to convey.

Anecdote, by the way, is one of my favorite bookmarked sites for thoughts on storytelling in the workplace, narrative, communities of practice and collaborative learning and working.

We could expand the subject of the question to 'Who are we?' and 'Why are we here?' in order to reveal a group's character, identity and motivation. The 'we' could be any dense network such as a community, family, workgroup, team, etc. Here's a possible example: My wife and I spent some time in Madang, Papua New Guinea and during our time there someone uncovered an old WWII road grader. The group pulled it out, cleaned it up and got it working again. It was the sort pulled by a tractor. Our leader stated that the steel used for this grader was made by Bethlehem Steel. Wow, a 50 year old grader left sitting in the jungle of PNG, made by Bethlehem Steel still worked! Must've been good steel. I identified with this story immediately. I never worked at Bethlehem Steel, but my dad did and so did most of my uncles and some of my aunts. On top of that, my dad was stationed briefly in PNG during WWII.

So, the group in this story could be my family, people from Bethlehem, PA and /or former Bethlehem Steel employees. There is a certain amount of pride being connected with Bethlehem and the Steel. Even though the Steel folded, it has retained a certain legacy.

What my wife remembers of this story was that our road badly needed to be repaired or graded, and shortly after the uncovering and cleaning the grader was put into good use fixing that road.

Other possible group stories could include origin stories. My uncle likes to tell us stories of the Siegfried clan, their origins in Germany and settlement in eastern Pennsylvania.

Another example of 'who we are?' could be how organizations came into being. I really enjoyed hearing stories from how our organization started as a 'skunkworks' and what the founders had in mind. Those stories gave me a sense of history and identity.

A few days after reading the Anecdote post, I attended a local storytelling guild. Since many of us were new to the guild, the long-term members of the guild told their signature stories. The leader prompted each by requesting them to tell 'their' stories'. Each told their story fabulously. What an example of storytelling for us newbies! In other words, each of the tellers had adopted a story told originally by somebody else, but after numerous performances within this guild, the tellers had become closely associated with their story until it had become their ‘signature’ story. I would like to ask each teller what made them choose the story that they told as their signature story. What was it about the story that inspired them to identify with it?

I could be talking about two or more different things, personal experience stories that reflect character and motivation and stories that the teller identifies with that reflects on who they are and what they value.

I was on the point of explaining to the storytelling guild why my wife and I told the story we selected from Vanuatu, as it is a bit odd to American ears; when a veteran storyteller commented that the stories we (re)tell reflect who we are. The reason we told the story of the birds and the turtle was that it was so different culturally from stories we knew and grew up with.

The story we told involves a group of birds from Vanuatu getting together and deciding to make a vegetable garden. The biggest bird decides to take the lead and organize the bush-clearing to prepare the garden. As a result of their hard work, all were thirsty. So, the biggest bird decides to fetch some water from a pool guarded by a turtle. The turtle runs off the big bird, and thereupon a small fantail takes up the cause. This bird not only succeeds in getting the water, but bludgeons the turtle with a stick. In the end the fantail is made the group's leader and the narrator adds 'this is why you see the fantail always among a group of birds looking out for danger.'

I'm sure there is some lesson to learn in this story as it is included in an early reader series for Vanuatu public schools. The moral of the story could have something to do with the biggest is not always successful or it may be a story to explain why fantails behave as they do. To find out, we'd have to ask an insider, someone belonging to the group from which the story came.

Then, Sunday, we heard a sermon based on the Joseph story from Genesis. The Joseph story takes up considerable space in the Genesis account. It's a great story. Here we have Joseph, the youngest of a group of brothers who has a dream in which he foresees his other brothers bowing to him. Joseph already is much loved by his father, making his brothers jealous of him. Joseph’s dream and interpretation add to the tension. As a result, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt. There he serves a rich man and is wrongly accused by the man’s wife. He is thrown in a dungeon and is miraculously given a prominent position when he is able to correctly interpret the pharaoh’s dream. Joseph’s brothers eventually meet up with him because of famine in their land after which Joseph schemes to reunite the whole family. So after all the years, the trials and the successes Joseph experiences in Egypt, he reveals what he thinks is the purpose of his life. Maybe Joseph did not have the full answer as to 'why he was here?' until close to the end of the story.

When I tell stories dealing with language development and training I feel invigorated. At this point in my life, starting a different kind of work in language development, I find myself telling different stories, or looking at stories of past experiences from a different angle. I imagine that after some experience working in this new position, I'll have another set of personal and communal stories to share. I'm looking forward to collecting this new set of stories and hope that they will energize us.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Storyweaving and feedback from the 'other' story

Recently, we presented to our colleagues, our newly undertaken work with oral approaches to translation and language development. To give our colleagues a taste of what we have in mind, I wove a personal story with an old and very well-known story. The latter story was what I had hoped was in focus. Instead, much to my surprise, I received very positive feedback in connection with my personal story. Briefly, the personal story centered around my first experience of the feeling that life is meaningless, when my sister died in an auto accident. I was 12 at the time. In telling my story, I wanted to connect with the motif of 'meaninglessness / vanity / futility' found in the well-known story of the book, Ecclesiastes (chapters 1,2 and 12), which I'm viewing as a personal journey of the Teacher, aka Qoheleth, in his search for meaning. I did get positive feedback on the telling of Ecclesiastes too, but it was the personal story of my sister's death that people responded to first.

This experience taught me that the audience connects with stories, especially stories woven together, at various points. Most likely, where the audience connects depends on their interpretive frames and experiences or personal stories. Perhaps I could have woven the stories together in a different fashion if I wanted a different response. I'm satisfied with the response and feedback from the audience, but I can't get passed how surprised I was at how strongly people connected with my personal story. I told an earlier version of this storyweaving to a another audience and received a different response. I know that I told my personal story better the second time. We'll see what happens next time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

GURT 2008 'Telling Stories' Report

I enjoyed attending the 2008 session (March 14-16) of the Georgetown University Roundtable (GURT), meeting other participants and listening to the presenters and keynote speakers. While the conference focused on the analysis of narratives, we heard some good stories in the process. Some of William Labov's example stories that he told left the audience on the edge of their seats. Richard Bauman shared some entertaining stories from tellers who made use of early audio equipment. Jerome Bruner, the last of our keynote speakers shared how jurisgenic stories shape law and how narratives help maintain culture.

As a result of attending the conference, I've gathered a long list of books I'd like to read and questions for further research.

Attached is my report.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vanuatu traditional stories - ol kastom stori blong Vanuatu

For those of you interested in reading traditional stories from Vanuatu, you can find some published on the Vanuatu Daily Post website. These stories are supplied by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and most likely from their fieldworkers. Vanuatu people have some great traditional stories. Some stories are similar across the country, but many are central to a language and culture. Here is a link to the Vanuatu Daily Post where you might be able to read some for yourself. Most likely, they will be written in Bislama, which is the national language of Vanuatu.
(The illustration is from an Ambrym tale drawn by David Tovovor for a vernacular literacy workshop in 2003.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Momentum Magazine - orality issue

The Momentum Project just published online their latest issue, 'Telling the Story'. This issue centers on the topic of orality. I've got an article in it on how storytelling can be an integral part of language development and translation and augment the process. My wife, Janet has an article called 'Orality and translation: focusing on images rather than words'. Our colleague, Karl has an article of FAQs of storytelling and translation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Orality newsletters - Janet Stahl

My wife, Janet has been writing some newsletters on the topic of orality. So we'll be posting them here occasionally on this blog.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

GURT 2008

March 14-16 are the date for this year's GURT (Georgetown University's Round Table). This year's topic is storytelling 'Telling Stories: Building bridges among Language, Narrative, Identity, Interaction, Society and Culture.' What an opportunity to have storytelling the focus of this linguistic conference. I'm planning to go and look forward to posting some of what I learn as a result. One of my heroes in the world of sociolinguistics, William Labov will be one of the plenary speakers. Deborah Tannen is also speaking. I'll have to attend 'They immediately know you're from Pennsylvania' by Barbara Johnstone.