Language Endangerment and Revitalisation in the Pacific

22 February 2021, 12:00 - 13:30


This is an online event hosted via Zoom. To register for this event please email Tom Powell Davies or Dylan Gaffney.


Dr Laura Arnold (British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh)

Dr Mary Walworth (Co-leader, Comparative Oceanic Linguistics Project, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)


Laura Arnold: Language vitality and the ‘ten-year gap’ in Indonesian Papua

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua are among the most linguistically diverse regions on the planet: 240 languages belonging to some 30 distinct language families are spoken here, as well as a further 18 linguistic isolates. Recent decades, however, have seen this diversity increasingly threatened, as speakers shift to Malay/Indonesian, the contemporary varieties of prestige and power.  

In this talk, I will present the results of a recent and comprehensive overview of language vitality in Indonesian Papua. This survey shows that nearly 70% of these languages are likely to be endangered to some degree, and that at least 10.5% are down to their last few speakers. I will supplement this discussion with case studies from the Ambel, Warembori, and Miere communities. These case studies will illustrate what I refer to as the ‘ten-year gap’: an extremely rapid shift from the local language to Malay/Indonesian, such that the generational gap between those who are fully fluent in the local language, and those who are entirely monolingual in Malay/Indonesian, may be as little as ten years. These rapid shifts appear to primarily be caused by improvements in transportation links, in that once a community becomes more accessible, Malay/Indonesian very quickly takes hold.

Mary Walworth: 'Trickledown' Endangerment in East Polynesia

In this talk, I describe the socioeconomic and political pressures that have produced a history of language shift and cultural endangerment in East Polynesia. I explore how severe language endangerment in the region is a consequence of the promotion of dominant languages (namely, French and English) and the result of prioritisation of specific autochthonous languages, following the centralisation of colonial powers. I discuss this situation as 'Trickledown Endangerment', which I have defined as when a dominant linguistic centre absorbs heavy linguistic influence that diffuses to other areas. Finally, I examine the implications of trickledown endangerment for language conservation and revitalisation efforts in East Polynesia.



An event organised by Risk and Renewal in the Pacific Network
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