Introduction 2012

Sikaiana Dictionary

Introduction 2012


The core of this dictionary was compiled in 1982 and 1983. It was based on my data collection on Sikaiana from October 1980 until July 1983.  I meant to expand the dictionary and collected more entries and forms in a stay during 1987.  I thought I would get back to work on it more but never did. I always thought of this dictionary as more than words and definitions but as holding the opportunity to be a source of cultural information.  I also think that modern technology and software offer immense opportunities to integrate different types of ethnographic information and make that information accessible.   I received a sabbatical from Kutztown University in 2012 to digitalize the Sikaiana material.

This dictionary started as a word list compiled by Dr. Peter Sharples in the late 1960s. I started a shoebox and continued to add to cards. In compiling this dictionary, I worked with several Sikaiana people in checking the entries. I worked very closely with John Kilatu who went through the entries several times. Kilatu was born about 1920 (he is not certain about the date because there were no calendar years before missionaries established themselves on Sikaiana in 1929). He attended mission schools in the 1930s and eventually went to medical school in Fiji and became a doctor. He was fluent in English, Pijin, and Motu (the early lingua franca used by the Anglican missionaries in their schools when he was a student). Others read the dictionary, but no one as closely and often as Kilatu. I am greatly indebted to him. Others who helped include: Brown Saua Moses Teui, Ralph Evesi, Joe Elota, Kate Tealona, James Vainipu, Robert Sisilo, Hilda Telaki, Mark Etua, John Tesinu, Johnson Siota, Edwin Huilani, Alfred Evesi, Joyce Teatuahai, Silas Tilikohu, and Christian Manakau. There are many others who contributed in various ways.

The sections on place names, personal names, and English terms were gathered in 1987 in Honiara, mainly working with Mark Etua and his wife, Maleva. I also collected more examples from Etua. Etua was a retired police administrator who had been to England. He was a fluent speaker of English. More terms and examples were collected from Robert Sisilo and Priscilla Taulupo in 1988-1990.

I have left the core of the dictionary as it was in 1983. I was closer to the language then and the entries were checked by John Kilatu. Re-reading the dictionary, I have some questions about transcriptions, especially forms with single vowels (te  ‘the” might be better transcribed as tee). I also find some cases of uncertainty in verbs concerning whether they are stative or intransitive. I also realize the some linguists will question the grammatical analysis, especially the verbs categorized as “semi-transitive.” Moreover, I suppose there are going to be questions about my analysis of a “passive” case rather than an ergative one. My present understanding is that there may be a few ergative-like usages, but there are many constructions that are close to English passive constructions. But in these and all matters, I have almost always left the dictionary as it was in 1983 because I was much closer to the language at that point.

In working out the structure of the dictionary and in analyzing the grammar, I am greatly indebted to Gary Simons and his wife Linda who were working for the Summer Institute of Linguistics in the Solomon Islands. Gary helped me analyze the grammar of the language and allowed me to use his computer system (as I recall he had 9 inch disks in 1983).  I am also grateful to Trevor Sofield who was the Australian High Commissioner and supported this project in numerous ways, including help in providing a grant from the South Pacific Cultural Fund.