The Sursurunga people live in a truly beautiful place. Almost all of them live along the east coast of the island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea where sparkling ocean, waving coconut palms, and amazing coral formations are the norm. About 5000 people speak Sursurunga as their mother tongue. Our purpose in being among them was to learn the Sursurunga language, describe its phonology (sounds) and grammar (how words are put together), understand the culture of the people who speak it, and then to translate the Scriptures into it and help provide tools for reading fluency.
We first arrived in the Sursurunga area in April, 1974, and began writing down the sounds of Sursurunga on small notecards and pieces of paper. We had the benefit of linguistic consultants of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the organization that sponsored our work, to help us figure out the phonology and the grammar, and we put those conclusions into various papers and articles. See the Bibliography for a list of those.
When computers arrived into our world in the mid-1980’s, it made things easier for recording, editing, and printing, and we took advantage of that. It was at that time that the data for this dictionary was keyed into a computer programme from its previous location in a 3-ring binder. Since then, we have added a large amount of data and changed programmes a time or two, finally arriving at what is presented here.
This dictionary represents the work of more than 40 years of collecting data, checking it, and organizing it. It is still incomplete and with inaccuracies – who can ever record all the words in any language or get it all pinned down exactly? But our hope is that this is at least a beginning, and that having this much recorded will benefit the Sursurunga people now and later, and provide a partial record of this beautiful and amazing language.
Literally hundreds of people contributed to the data here as they taught us new words and how they’re used as well as correcting our poor understanding. In the later process of editing and refining this dictionary, Dr René van den Berg and Samson Benroi were the men we could not do without. René, our lexicography consultant, patiently answered our questions about what to include, about formatting, and about many other details on the road to producing this published version.
Benroi, Don’s Sursurunga brother, good friend, and co-translator, provided most of the example sentences in the entries as well as correcting and improving our understanding of words and their usage. Dr. Alex Bolyanatz, also Don’s Sursurunga brother (adopted as Don was) and good friend, provided insight and data on the culture of the Sursurunga people. Once the entries were finalized, our longtime friend and colleague, Karen Buseman, took the database for this dictionary and beautifully formatted it into what you will see in the following pages. And at the very end, Kevin Nicholas took it all and typeset it into the book presented here. Our thanks to all these, and we hope that each one will feel that he or she has had a part in this dictionary.
Others we would like to mention are: Gertrude Garrett Nicholas, who established the vernacular preschool program among the Sursurunga, working on site from 1988-1990, and thereafter from the provincial capital Kavieng; Laurie and Ruth Morgan, who focused on adult literacy and scripture use preparation on site from 2000-2003 and from time to time thereafter as well; and Pam Bolyanatz, nurse practitioner who accompanied her anthropologist husband Alex for his fieldwork.
Each of these people have become family to the Sursurunga and to us, and we are grateful for the contribution each has made to our lives and to theirs.
In the description of Sursurunga grammar which follows, we have tried to keep things simple. Much about the grammar is not said here as our intention was only to focus on the highlights and give some general idea and flavor of how the language operates. This description is written so that English-speaking Sursurungas and other laymen who do not have linguistic training can more readily understand it. Since English is the national language of Papua New Guinea and since this introduction is written in English, many comparisons have been made between Sursurunga and English to help the description. In addition, there are many grammatical notes in the individual entries as well as information about nuances between similar words, interesting cultural notes, and other tidbits gleaned over the years.
The linguistic terms used in this description are either explained when they are mentioned or at the end in the section called “Abbreviations and Other Helps”, or both.
It has been a great honour and privilege to spend our lives doing this, and while our hope is that the Sursurungas have benefitted from our presence and our work, we feel that the greatest blessing has been ours.
Don and Sharon Hutchisson