Tag Archives: conference


As we mentioned before we left, one of the main goals of our March trip to Cameroon was attending the second National Symposium on Cameroonian Languages (NASCAL2). It was good that we could schedule the trip to coincide with this conference, as this is part of a significant goal for my work: interacting in national linguistics conferences. Because this conference was held some six hours by road north of Yaoundé, it took some work getting there, which I’ve chronicled here.

This is the view out my hotel balcony:

and one with me in it:

Arriving on time, we had lots of time to stand around waiting for things to begin:

This is what the plenary room looked like for the first couple hours:

This gave me a number of opportunities to meet people, such as Joseph, a professor in the German department in Yaoundé:


Nelson (A PhD student):

and Elijah:

But eventually everyone got there, and the first plenary sessions got going:

I was somewhat surprised to see the style of journalism that I had assumed was unique to DRC, recording the presentations:

and the audience:

Unfortunately, the delay starting wasn’t particularly well accounted for in the schedule, and was complicated by power being cut just as the sun was going down, making light even more necessary:

Since most presenters depended on a projector, the room I was in quit for the day, in consultation with the organizers. But this decision wasn’t coordinated across the conference; at least one other room was still going a couple hours later:

So we got dinner and headed back to the hotel, to prepare for the next day:

The next morning, we were back in the same room, but with power on (and an adjusted schedule):

I got to hear presentations from other missionary colleagues, like Sarah:

And Cam:

As well as from Cameroonians like Adriel (another doctoral student at Yaoundé)

I even got to make my own presentation (on how to evaluate the importance of tone in a given language, which sparked a decent conversation):

There was also more time for side conversations with Joseph Bushman:

and Ayunwe, a professor at the University of Buea (which hosted WOCAL7):

And I got to help out with a group photo for people working with CABTAL (Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy, a member of the Wycliffe Global Alliance), plus a friend or two:

And I got to speak briefly the with Mathaus, the head of linguistics for CABTAL:

and with Adriel Bebine, who is working on his doctorate at the University of Youndé I (we also got to sit together over the closing meal, so we got to chat some more):

There were lots of corridor conferences with the organizers:

and there were a couple local performers, though I only got a pic of this one:

In the end, we had the obligatory ceremony, wherein I got a certificate confirming my participation (:-)):

After the closing ceremony, and the closing meal (which I guess I didn’t get pictures of!), we headed off to see the local attraction “Museum of Civilizations”:

though on the way I ran into Jeff, a student at the University of Dschang, who gave a loose-fitting shout-out to the Pacific Northwest:

Here is the museum, across the lake in blue:

and my selfie with the lake:

The lake itself is a fairly major feature of the area:

I have lots of pics of the museum itself, but I won’t spoil the surprise, in case you might go there yourself some day (:-)). They were very proud of it, and kept it open late to allow us to see it.

So over all, the conference went well. The organization did not allow as much time for informal interaction as I’m used to having (between presentations, over meals, etc), but I did get to make a number of introductions, which was much of what I was hoping for. On the way home, I texted with one contact I’d made about the possibility of helping with some teaching on tone, which would be a strategic way for me to use my training. So we got some relationships started, with those currently in and out of Bible translation work, and with people in universities and in other institutions. As we make our move to Cameroon this June/July (Lord willing!), we’ll be able to further cultivate these relationships, and see how we can best help the church and Bible translation movement in Cameroon!


March Cameroon Itinerary Prayer Points

These are some basic points to pray for our trip to Cameroon this March, according to the different stages of the trip:

Flying to Cameroon through Brussels

  • Please pray for health, rest, and productivity. We have three flights (3, 7+ & 8+hrs) and two layovers (2&3hrs), with lots of people, germs, and fatigue along the way (and in addition to other transitions, today the high in Fort Worth is 33ºF, and the low in Yaoundé is 70ºF).
  • Please pray that we and our bags arrive there in one piece and on time.
  • Please pray for productivity for Kent, who will use flight time to finish his presentation for the linguistics conference.


  • Please pray for safety, especially what we eat, and how we get around.
  • Please pray that we would get to meet many of our colleagues, and have productive and mutually encouraging conversations.
  • Please pray that we would get good research on transportation and housing options, to plan well the move over the summer.
  • Please pray for our research into other life details (like what is available in stores and markets), to help us make a good transition to life and work there.

Kent at Linguistics Conference

  • Please pray for Kent’s presentation. It is from his dissertation, but needs to be adapted to this audience and translated.
  • Please pray for good relationships with other missionary linguists
  • Please pray for good relationships with Cameroonian linguists
  • Please pray for good relationships with government representatives

Children at School (RFIS)

  • Please pray that this trip would be a good preparation generally for our upcoming transition in June, but especially for our children.
  • Please pray they would ask and get answered as many questions as possible.
  • Please pray that they would get along with their classmates for next year.
  • Please pray that they would get excited about their school for next year.

Return Flights

  • Please pray for safety and health (the same flights home)
  • Please pray for us and our bags to get back in one piece, and on time.
  • Please pray for rest and recuperation after the trip, and planning our next steps!

Why I attend national conferences

One of the purposes of going to Cameroon this march is to attend the second “National Symposium on Cameroonian Languages”, at the University of Dschang, in Dschang, Cameroon. I assume it may not be obvious to you why this is a good thing, so I’ll lay out some of my thoughts on linguistics conferences here.

First of all, recall that I am a missionary linguist. That is, I am a missionary and a linguist, something like a missionary pilot is a missionary and a pilot, or like a missionary doctor is a missionary and a doctor. And I challenge people to see that I am not less of a missionary because I am a linguist, and I am not less a linguist because I am a missionary. One might even argue that these two vocations encourage and better each other —that I am a better linguist because I am a missionary, and that I am a better missionary (at least in some ways) because I am a linguist. I love that I get to analyze languages, serve minority (and therefore disadvantaged) peoples, and glorify God, all in one job. The work I do today helps people to read better, which helps their lives today. But it also gives them more powerful access to the scriptures, which provides “value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1Tim 4:8b ESV)

So how does my work as a missionary linguist apply at linguistic conferences? I have been tempted in the past to look at conferences as a massive information dump, and I think some people do look at them that way. But one obvious (yet astounding) observation I’ve made about conferences is that they are full of people. And they’re run by people. People presenting, people listening, people asking and answering questions. So whatever else is true of linguistics conferences (local, national, or international), they are an occasion for lots of people with similar interests to get together.

Which doesn’t mean that I man a booth at the side of the food court reading “come to know Jesus through linguistics”. Rather, I get to practice what Jesus teaches me about getting along with people, among perhaps the most secular crowd of people I ever interact with. There are people who are ornry and disagreeable. There are people that don’t know yet how little they know about something. There are people who know more than I ever will about something, and who have no interest in relating to mere mortals as myself —though most people I meet at these conferences could be described as “people”, without stretching the imagination much. :-)

I was at a conference a few years ago, where I had a particular opportunity to show compassion to another person there. It was an international conference, but hosted at a particular university in an African country, so lots of people from that area were able to come. This means that there were people who came from other African countries (like me), people who came from America or Europe, and people who came to the conference without using a passport, all at the same event. At one talk, the speaker used some words in a way that was initially at least confusing, if not just plain wrong (about a fairly basic concept that most people at the conference would be expected to know). I was not alone in this opinion; others asked questions afterward, trying to get the guy to clarify what he meant. They went around a couple times, but eventually they gave up on him, with a response that might be translated “he’s nuts.” Time for questions was up, and we were on to the next speaker, and people cut their losses.

But other missionary linguists and I caught up with him later, and asked him to explain himself more privately. It turned out that he was using a particular theory of a particular linguist that had been published, but that almost no one had heard of. And apparently he was using those words correctly within that theory, but that wasn’t enough to help us understand him without this much longer conversation. In the end, we were able to explain to him that the theory he was using wasn’t known or used many others, so he should either use more standard terminology, or else explain very clearly that he was using these words differently.

But the more important message, to me, was that we cared enough about him as a person (and as a linguist) to follow up with him, and help him get his thinking straight. It cost more time and energy than writing him off when his presentation didn’t make sense (even after questions), but it was worth better understanding him, and helping him be better understood. This idea is part of a core goal of my work: mentorship. That is, I want to have alphabets and writing systems done, so people can read (see above!), but if I can do that, and at the same time train up others to do this work, then I multiply myself, and the work gets on better and faster.

So while an introvert like me is certainly tempted to take every 15 minute brake I get for myself, those breaks are often taken up by processing things with people I know, and getting to know others that I don’t. And often all that rubbing shoulders yields unexpected results.

At the last conference I went to (in the US), there was a team of linguists from Ghana (IIRC), who were trying to analyze a tonal language (what I do), but without any particular training or orientation. I was able to point out Tone Analysis for Field Linguists, by Keith L Snider (full disclosure: he was on my committee),  probably the most helpful and practical approach to doing tone analysis. And I was able to sit and do some actual acoustic analysis with them. That is, they got out their computers, and showed how they were looking at the speech stream in their recordings (as I described for consonants here). Because all those lines and differently shaded areas require interpretation, and because good interpretation requires experience, I was able to give them some pointers to help them see their data in a more helpful way. It took maybe an hour altogether, but it was time well spent to help someone get along better in this work, and to show friendship and solidarity as well, and that in Jesus’ name.

Anyway, because of the prejudice against Christian missionaries common in most linguistic circles I’ve been in, any time I can show people compassion, care, and honest friendship is a win, even if just a PR win (people know who I work for; it’s on my name tag). But it isn’t just people thinking better of Christian missionaries, or of the church generally. I also get to mix friendliness and compassion with excellent academics (well, I try anyway :-)). So every chance I have to help someone think more clearly, or present his ideas more clearly, or understand someone else’s ideas more clearly, is a chance for people at the conference to see that Christians worship the Truth (John 14:6).  Not that everyone receives this, of course: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1Peter 4:15-16 ESV)

So regarding this upcoming conference, there are two kids of relationship to build. One is with my expatriate colleagues, other missionary linguists like myself. I know some of them a bit, but most not at all. So it will be good to interact with them through the conference, to enable better collaboration down the road. The other kind of relationship to build is with national linguists, whether they are involved in Bible translation movement or not. I anticipate my work in Cameroon including relationship with government and university entities; this work can only be helped by knowing and being known by Cameroonian linguists. And for those that are still in training, there is a great opportunity to come alongside them, and encourage them in ways that will facilitate more mentorship down the road.

Anyway, I look forward to this opportunity to glorify God by seeking truth and loving people in a way that I am particularly enabled to do, and in a way that will amplify our effectiveness in facilitating local Bible Translation movements throughout the central African basin.

March to Cameroon

One of our most frequently asked questions is what are our plans, so I’d like to give an update since we last wrote about our timeline (here). We did not make our goal of near 100% by Christmas, and in the process of doing so (and in celebrating Christmas) the deadline to submit an abstract for the linguistics conference in Cameroon passed. We also spent a good deal of time re-evaluating our agenda for the March trip, as what we had originally intended didn’t seem like it would work out. As we were getting solid dates we wanted to be gone, we checked on airfare, and the prices we saw seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of this trip.

Fortunately, God didn’t let us stop there. With firm dates in hand, we looked for better (i.e., cheaper) tickets, and ultimately found some for half the price we had been quoted. So we now have tickets to leave the first week in March, and return the third week.

Then last week, I wrote the conference organizers, and asked if there was any way they would still accept a submission from me. Just yesterday, they responded and invited me to apply despite my tardiness. So yesterday I submitted that material, and started work on other logistics necessary to attend the conference.

Tickets are purchased, passport applications are sent off, and the linguistics conference is a go! While it feels a bit last-minute to us, God seems to be working out our main goals for this spring.

But in the mean time, we have two passports currently getting renewed, and very little time left after that to get our visas to Cameroon, so please pray that we would have wisdom and favor in navigating these bureaucracies.