The Story of Cilinaya: Translating a children’s folktale in Indonesia

Eli Asikin-Garmager, a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Iowa, spent last summer traveling throughout Indonesia researching sentence structure in the Kutó-Kuté dialect of the Sasak Language. With the help of his host family’s connections to a storyteller, he produced a trilingual written record of the folktale, ‘Cilinaya’ to be distributed free of charge to elementary schools, allowing children to learn the local dialect. Read on to learn more about Eli’s journey.

"Witnessing a father and daughter help work through the initial translation, and seeing the daughter read in the local dialect for the first time, was exceptionally fulfilling."

Before arriving in Indonesia, I initially planned to stay with a family. However, I underestimated how rewarding and positive such an experience would be. In addition to a great friendship, they helped with everyday tasks and guided me in understanding the culture. Moreover, this family and their connections with the local community became key to my integration in the community and success of the project.

Early into the trip, the family helped me establish contact with a well-known, local storyteller, whom I worked with for the recording and initial translation of the folktale 'Cilinaya.’ I worked with the storyteller and one other consultant in order to complete the translation of the folktale from the Kutó-Kuté dialect of the Sasak language into Indonesian (the national language of Indonesia.) Following, I met with university students in the capital, Mataram, in order to ensure accuracy of the translation into English.

Starting the project by documenting the folktale was beneficial as it helped the community understand the goals of the project. Furthermore, it was rewarding to see locals enthused about creating a written record of the local dialect because, even when children study the Sasak language in school, they study the dialect spoken in the capital or a mix of various dialects. Witnessing a father and daughter help work through the initial translation, and seeing the daughter read in the local dialect for the first time, was exceptionally fulfilling.

Upon receiving such a positive and enthusiastic response from the community regarding the folktale, I was able to set aside enough money in the budget to work with a graphic designer in Jakarta, Indonesia, who has already finished designing a cover. I’m currently finalizing the editing of text, and the designer in Jakarta will take care of final layout, printing, and shipping. Approximately 100 copies of the printed, trilingual version of the folktale will be shipped to Lombok, where it will be distributed in elementary schools in Sukadana (at no cost to the schools) for use in the teaching of local language and culture.

In addition to documenting the folktale, which allows linguists to analyze the language in natural, unscripted speech, I also worked with consultants in tasks of translating sets of sentences from Indonesian to Sasak. The northern part of Lombok Island is known as the Kutó-Kuté dialect area, but somewhat unexpectedly, the dialect turns out to be far less than 100 percent mutually-intelligible with other dialects of the language. Even within Northern Lombok, I found much greater village-to-village variation than expected. For example, after completion of primary data collection in Sukadana, I had to travel to Mataram a second time in order to collect data from two other dialects for comparison with Kutó-Kute. For this reason, I simultaneously compiled an (ongoing) dictionary of the dialect, which currently has more than 700 entries; this can be used to measure the degree of similarity of this dialect with others.

Folktale cover
The folktale was translated into two languages.

During my two trips to Mataram, the capital of the island, I was able to create relationships with students and professors, which were needed for completion of this project, but will also be crucial for my dissertation. Funding from the Stanley Grant not only provided for a successful trip to Sukadana, but planted the seeds for future academic work. Looking ahead most immediately I will be able to better prepare my dissertation plans as a result of this trip, but dissertation and beyond, it is my hope that having completed a successful research trip with the funding from the Stanley Award will help me when I apply for funding in the future for further fieldwork. Not only did the Stanley Award help me to create a written record of the dialect, and collect data needed to better understand the language and finish my qualifying exam paper; but also allowed me professional development experience far beyond what is possible in a classroom. As a linguist interested in language documentation, the Stanley Award supported a fieldwork experience in which I learned how to negotiate the logistics of research in a new country and culture necessary for a successful project. For example, this experience helped stress the importance of designing a research project that not only helps the researcher collect data, but to do so in a way that provides a tangible benefit to the community in which they are working and generate community interest in the work.

Eli is currently revising and editing a descriptive report of Kutó-Kuté Sasak sentence structure which describes how affixes (prefixes and suffixes) are used in the dialect. This paper will be sent to Professor Nur Ahmadi for dissemination at the University of Mataram, who continues to work on the language with his graduate students, and has close contact with other foreigners interested in the language. Portions of the report will be used for the Syntactic Structures of the World’s Languages (SWWL) online database submission, and a finalized document will be submitted to SSWL in September. Eli will also be using his compiled language data for an independent study this fall in which he will write a more theoretically-oriented paper providing empirical evidence as to how a particular prefix in the Indonesian language may have originated. He also hopes to talk about his project and present the folktale to a UI audience at the next Stanley Speakeasy.

Find out more information about the Stanley Graduate and Undergraduate Awards for International Research, funded in part by the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization.