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Review of Endangered Austronesian, Papuan and Australian Aboriginal languages
EDITOR: Senft, Gunter TITLE: Endangered Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal languages SUBTITLE: Essays on language documentation, archiving and revitalization SERIES TITLE: Pacific Linguistics 618 PUBLISHER: Pacific Linguistics YEAR: 2010
Nicholas J. Williams, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder
SUMMARY This book is a collection of papers originally presented at the 6th Conference of the European Society for Oceanists (ESfO). The conference was themed 'Pacific Challenges: Questioning Concepts, Rethinking Conflicts', and all the papers in this volume were presented in a special session devoted to endangered languages cultures of the Pacific. While 'endangered languages of the Pacific' may seem to be a relatively specific research area, the contributions to this edited volume demonstrate the enormous range of the topic and theoretical and applied approaches to it. First, the range of languages included in the 'Pacific' and 'Oceanic' categories is itself quite large, including all Austronesian, Papuan and Australian aboriginal languages, as well as languages of other families in Southeast, South and East Asia. Second, responses to the issue of language endangerment, since it started to enter the awareness of mainstream linguistics more than 20 years ago now, have included not only descriptive and documentary efforts but also attempts to maintain threatened languages, prevent endangered languages from undergoing further language shift as well as to revitalize highly endangered and extinct languages. This short edited volume does not attempt comprehensive coverage of these kinds of efforts in the Pacific, but simply presents some case studies and examples of work being done by linguists and scholars in other disciplines to describe, document and preserve the many endangered languages in the Pacific region.
The volume starts off with an introduction by the editor, Gunter Senft, known for his work on Kilivila, the language of the Trobriand Islanders, based on over 30 years of research. In this chapter Senft frames the contributions within the wider literature on language endangerment and language death. Much of the discussion draws on previous work in this area, especially Crystal (2000), including information on rates of language endangerment and death, proposed stages of this process, suggested causes, prerequisites for preservation and revitalization and the response of linguists and other scholars. Following these introductory comments, he briefly summarizes each chapter and concludes by reaffirming the complexity of the topic of language endangerment and the wide ranging activities linguists and others are engaging in to deal with it.
The rest of this volume is divided into three parts (a smart move for a volume covering such a wide range of issues). Part I focuses on the documentation of endangered languages, Part II on archiving, and Part III on revitalization, what Senft calls ''the three cornerstones of activities for endangered languages'' (p5). Each chapter focuses on a different language or set of languages from the Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal language groups.
Darrell Tryon starts Part I with 'The endangered languages of Vanuatu'. This chapter is a very brief overview of the language situation in Vanuatu, a country with one of the highest language densities in the world (at least 110 languages and a population of only 220,000). The chapter notes previous surveys of Vanuatu languages and discussions of recent efforts by the Vanuatu government and Vanuatu Cultural Center/National Museum and their ni-Vanuatu fieldworkers to document local knowledge of endangered languages. Included is a list all Vanuatu languages, as well as lists of extinct and endangered languages. Tryon makes an important distinction between two categories of extinct languages in Vanuatu -- those whose names are remembered but for which little or no data is available and those more recently extinct for which some information is available.
The next chapter, 'A field report on a language documentation project on the Marquesas in French Polynesia', by Gabriele H. Cablitz, reports on a documentation project undertaken in the Marquesas, a string of islands in French Polynesia. The chapter provides a wealth of information on the sociolinguistic situation and the state of language endangerment in the Marquesas. Cablitz discusses several factors contributing to the endangerment of Marquesan, including the colonization of the Marquesas by the French, Tahitian hegemony in French Polynesia generally, problems with the French-based education system, and the role of the relatively recent media revolution in the islands. She reports that Marquesans are in a stage of language shift from Marquesan to French as the everyday language, then discusses cultural and linguistic revival in the Marquesas, highlighting the limitations of this revival, which has occurred primarily via the medium of French. In light of these issues, a documentation project has been conducted in the Marquesas in recent years. Marquesans' reactions to the project have varied, from open enthusiastic engagement to guarded secrecy of certain speech genres and linguistic and cultural knowledge. Overall the project has been a success, though, and in conclusion the author points to an observed change in recent years with regard young people's language attitudes, which are now giving more attention and respect to Marquesan.
In chapter 4, 'Language endangerment: situations of loss AND gain', Ingjerd Hoëm critiques some assumptions behind concern with endangered languages including the idea that modern and western influences are corrupting and the most authentic documentation of a language and culture must avoid non-native contaminants. Her extended critique of these assumptions takes the form of an analysis of some text types in modern Tokelau. Unlike many other languages in the Pacific, Tokelau is not highly endangered, remaining the primary language of communication in everyday settings in the three atolls where it is native. However, certain speech genres are threatened and many children in the Tokelau diaspora (e.g. in New Zealand) have turned to English. This leads Hoëm to describe the Tokelau situation in terms of both 'language loss' and 'language gain'. This possibility of new genres of written and/or spoken language in endangered language situations is often overlooked.
Chapter 5, 'Culture change -- language change: missionaries and moribund varieties of Kilivila,' represents the editor's own contribution based on more than three years of field research on Kilivila and the Trobriand Islands between 1982 and 2004. Senft documents two endangered speech genres in Kilivila ('biga baloma' and 'biga megwa'). He also takes this opportunity to evaluate the overall level of endangerment of Kilivila and to consider carefully the notion of language and cultural change with regard to these moribund ways of speaking. While languages and cultures always change, there are specific reasons to mourn the loss of many endangered languages, and in this case, endangered speech genres. Senft points out that, unlike the dead languages of European antiquity, most languages being documented today have never been written before, and any moribund varieties will likely die without any written records, were it not for the efforts of documentary linguists.
Part II is comprised of three chapters on issues related to the archiving of documentary materials. The first chapter (chapter 6), Nick Thieberger's 'Linguistic preservation and linguistic responsibility: examples from the Pacific', criticizes the often heard claim that linguists' documentation efforts are 'saving' endangered languages. If we are to come anywhere close to actually preserving these languages for posterity (whatever we might mean by 'saving'), we linguists need to do much more than write reference grammars of the languages we purport to 'save' or 'document'. Thieberger suggests some best practices for archiving documentary records of endangered languages so that these records last and remain accessible to both linguists and the communities they originate from. The discussion is based on the author's experiences with PARADISEC, the 'Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures'. He emphasizes careful treatment of metadata and warns about inappropriate use of documented materials if informed consent and information about access rights are not obtained from speakers. The chapter ends with a discussion of some implications for current fieldwork projects. He further suggests ways in which archived materials may be linked together using predictable structure to produce richly interlinked documents. These issues are of utmost importance to linguists working with endangered languages whose responsibility it is to preserve the best possible record of the language.
In chapter 7, 'Digital archiving -- a necessity in documentary linguistics', Peter Wittenburg and Paul Trilsbeek share their experiences working for the Technical Group at the Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, host of the language archive for the DOBES (Dokumentation bedrohter Sprachen -- Documentation of endangered languages) program. The authors discuss the influence of digital technology on research in linguistics and on the documentation of endangered languages in particular. The paper is similar to Thieberger's, although they delve into more detail regarding the archiving of documentary materials, as well as the current and potential users of archive materials. They outline the architecture of a modern language archive and end the paper with a lengthy discussion of advanced methods for providing access to the resources held in language archives. This is a thorough discussion of the nature of language archives and what language archives should strive for. It points to several directions for future development in archive management.
Part II closes with a chapter by David Blundell, Michael Buckland, Jeanette Zereke, Yu-Hsiu Lu and Andrew Limond entitled 'Empowering Pacific languages and cultures mapping with applied case studies in Taiwan and the Philippines'. This chapter presents several projects associated with the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), started at the University of California, Berkeley. This initiative attempts to connect different parts of the world through plotting data from various kinds of research along with spatial-temporal data. The projects discussed include (i) a digital atlas of languages of the Pacific, (ii) a map of Formosan Austronesian languages, (iii) an interface to Cebuano library catalogue records, and (iv) fieldwork on language and culture mapping of Lan-yu (Taiwan) and the Batanes Islands (Philippines). These various projects represent attempts at applying findings of research on endangered languages and making the results accessible and viewable in a spatio-temporal format.
The book’s final section deals with revitalization efforts and issues involved in the revitalization of endangered languages. The first is Margaret Florey and Michael Ewing's 'Political acts and language revitalization: community and state in Maluku'. This chapter focuses on the authors' efforts to document and revitalize languages in Central Maluku, Indonesia. This area is characterized by the highest rate of language endangerment in Indonesia, with as many as 50% of the languages endangered. The authors discuss the effects of a period of civil unrest in the region between 1998 and 2002, called the 'kerusuhan'. While the violence during this period caused great damage to the local infrastructure and introduced rifts between Christian and Muslim communities, efforts at reconciliation in recent years have led to a never before seen interest in local languages ('bahasa tanah') as part of the cultural heritage of Maluku and one piece of reconciliation and rebuilding a Malukan identity. Following these changes, the authors organized a training program for local teachers and language activists to teach the methods of language documentation and revitalization. The aim is for future documentation and revitalization projects to be conducted by native speakers in Maluku, and the authors see this as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.
In chapter 10, Jakelin Troy and Michael Walsh re-evaluate the language situation in southeast Australia, where it has been widely assumed that all or nearly all aboriginal languages are extinct. On the contrary, Troy and Walsh argue that this view is mistaken in light of a range of recent documentation and revitalization efforts in the three provinces (New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria) which comprise southeast Australia. A handful of languages in this area are now being taught and learned by aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians, as high as the university level. The authors emphasize the need for indigenous consultation and control in any revitalization efforts.
The final three chapters volume are all concerned with the revitalization of Māori in New Zealand. The first of these (chapter 11) by Sophie Nock, entitled 'Te reo Māori -- Māori language revitalization', provides a history of Māori, focusing on the devastating impacts of colonization and the important efforts made by Māori people in recent years. Nock gives an overview of Māori programs, describing the 'Te Kohanga Reo' or 'Language Nests' which have become a model for other revitalization programs, as well as the 'Kura Kaupapa Māori' and 'Wharekura' or 'Māori Language Schools'. Today there are even 'Te Whare Wananga', Māori Universities. Māori is truly a language revitalization success story.
Chapter 12, by Diane Johnson, reports on a research project underway that aims to evaluate claims that Māori students differ in terms of learning style preferences. Entitled, 'Learning style preferences and New Zealand Māori students: questioning folk wisdom', this chapter uses a standardized tool for evaluating learning style preferences to test both Māori and non-Māori students in New Zealand between the ages 10 and 14 (approximately). While Māori students are often claimed to prefer oral, interactive and task-centered learning, the preliminary results of this research suggest that learning style preferences might be much more individual than culturally-based. Furthermore, certain learning style preferences might develop as a product of the very learning environment the children are exposed to in earlier elementary school years. This kind of research has important implications for curricula development and the teaching and learning of other endangered languages.
Finally, in chapter 13, 'Classroom-based language revitalization: the interaction between curriculum planning and teacher development in the case of Māori language', Winifred Crombie discusses development of a curriculum document for the teaching and learning of Māori as a school subject in New Zealand. Crombie outlines the process of drafting the curriculum document, as well as some issues that arose in the process of review and how she responded to these. The discussion will be valuable to anyone developing classroom curricula for endangered languages in language revitalization programs elsewhere.
EVALUATION This volume makes an important contribution to the growing literature on language endangerment and the responses of linguists (mainly documentation, archiving and revitalization). It provides a wealth of information on particular Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal languages. As a whole the book raises the call for more and higher quality work on the enormous number of endangered languages yet to be documented. It furthermore points to several ways we can improve the work being done, namely by documenting all types of speech and the cultural context of the language, by looking for new emerging varieties or styles, by paying careful attention to the quality of our documentation and archival issues. A theme that runs through many of the contributions is the importance of ethical research and consideration of the communities efforts and interest (or lack thereof) in documentation and language maintenance projects. Overall this is an excellent volume which raises many important questions and motivates the coming generation of linguists to produce a very high quality record of the languages we still have.
My main criticism is that it reads much more like a set of conference proceedings than a thematically well-developed volume. In fact, all the papers were originally conference papers presented at the 6th Conference of the European Society for Oceanists (ESfO). Aside from the editor's introductory comments in Chapter 1, which frame the twelve contributions and provide an overall theme for the book, there is little to bring the book together as a whole and make it cohere. While language endangerment is indeed a wide field, the responses to it represented in this book appear to span too wide a range to fit comfortably in one volume. While the first few chapters will be of much interest to other linguists undertaking language documentation projects in the Pacific region, the chapters in Part III on revitalization of Māori will be less relevant (and vice versa). Furthermore, while some of the issues in the archiving chapters are important for all linguists in the field of language documentation to consider, they each go into perhaps too much detail for anyone other than an archivist. Another issue is the lack of an index, which would be useful considering the range of topics covered.
To be certain, the entire book is an enjoyable and quick read for anyone concerned with any of the myriad issues involved in language documentation and revitalization. Nevertheless, it might have been improved by linking the papers together a bit more and more attention to coherence.
REFERENCES Crystal, David. 2000. Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Nicholas Williams is a PhD student at the University of Colorado at
Boulder, USA. He is beginning a project to document language and social
interaction in Kula, an endangered non-Austronesian language of eastern
Alor, Indonesia. His doctoral dissertation research takes an interactional
approach to place reference in Kula. His interests include language
documentation and description, Papuan and Austronesian languages,
interactional linguistics, conversation analysis, and linguistic anthropology.