LINGUIST List 17.2290|
Thu Aug 10 2006
Review: Sociolinguistics: Ingram; Cunningham; Sumbuk (2006)
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Language Diversity in the Pacific
Message 1: Language Diversity in the Pacific
From: Picus Ding <picus_dingyahoo.com.hk>
Subject: Language Diversity in the Pacific
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-935.html
EDITORS: Cunningham, Denis; Ingram, D. E.; Sumbuk, Kenneth
TITLE: Language Diversity in the Pacific
SUBTITLE: Endangerment and Survival
SERIES: Multilingual Matters 134
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Picus Sizhi Ding, Macao Polytechnic Institute
Sponsored by the UNESCO, this anthology consists of 14 chapters from 20
contributors, most of whom are experts in endangered languages of the greater
Pacific region (roughly, Australia/Oceania plus Southeast Asia). The book
starts with a Foreword (pp. ix-xi) by Fèlix Martí, who highlights the
orientation of the volume towards the future in its approach to language
endangerment and survival. A brief background of all contributors is provided
at the end of the book.
Chapter one, Language Diversity in the Pacific (pp. 1-14)
D. E. Ingram presents an overview of the 13 papers in the volume, which he
groups into three broad parts: (a) language identification and data collection
(chapters 2-5), (b) description on the state and use of languages in specific
regions (chapters 6-11), and practical issues in language revival, maintenance
and education (chapters 12-14).
Chapter two, World Languages Review (pp. 15-23)
Andoni Barreña, Itziar Idiazabal, Patxi Juaristi, Carme Junyent, Paul Ortega and
Belen Uranga report findings from the World Languages Review project, which
dates back to the late 1990s. Using questionnaires, the project has access to
725 different languages. According to data from 525 questionnaires, 37% of the
languages did not have any official status; 43% of languages were not
transmitted within the family on a regular basis; the most cited reason for
language endangerment (39.7%) was economic or cultural subordination; and 33% of
the languages were not used in education at all.
Chapter three, Naming Languages, Drawing Language Boundaries and Maintaining
Languages with Special Reference to the Linguistic Situation in Papua New Guinea
As suggested by the title, Peter Mühlhäusler deals with some thorny problems
such as what is or is not a language and how a language should be named in Papua
New Guinea, which is estimated to have 700 ~ 846 languages. The number of
languages in Papua New Guinea is uncertain because the western nation-based
notion of language is difficult to apply. The chapter also offers indigenous
views on language as well as arguments for maintaining languages.
Chapter four, Obstacles to Creating an Inventory of Languages in Indonesia (pp.
Multamia R.M.T. Lauder reports problems found in the project Research on
Cognates and Mapping of Regional Languages in Indonesia undertaken by the
Indonesian National Language Centre. Major difficulties include the lack or
inaccessibility of reliable information on isolated tribes in Indonesia.
Government departments are of little help to the research team and to isolated
tribes. With the assumption that modernization would be embraced by all, the
government has inadeptly run resettlement programs, which are rejected after
trials by some tribes.
Chapter five, Keeping Track of Indigenous Language Endangerment in Australia
Patrick McConvell and Nicholas Thieberger present a case of progress in
understanding the recent situation of indigenous languages in Australia. The
advancement was made when the Australian State of the Environment included
'indigenous languages' as a category in its study in 1996. The chapter
describes in detail regional patterns of language shift in Aboriginal languages
and proposes using age groups data on speakers collected in the national census
to gauge the degree of endangerment. The endangerment index distinguishes five
stages of a language: Strong (with speakers from all ages), Endangered (less
than 70% of speakers in the age group 5-19), Seriously endangered (a further
decline with less than 70% of speakers in the age group 20-39), Critical (a
further decline with less than 70% of speakers in the age group 40-59), and
Terminal (without speakers).
Chapter six, Papua New Guinea's Languages: Will They Survive? (pp. 85-96)
As a native speaker of a Papua New Guinean language, Kenneth Sumbuk's account of
the linguistic situation in this island country is based on both personal
experience and professional study. He points out (p.87) that ''the number of
speakers of a language does not tell us much about the language's future
survival''. He identified 5 main factors that will affect the future of
languages in Papua New Guinea: technology, lack of documentation, economic
globalization, lack of education in indigenous languages, and lack of
socio-political and economic rights of the indigenous peoples.
Chapter seven, Language Endangerment and Globalization in the Pacific (pp. 97-111)
Darrell Tryon starts the chapter with a clear definition for the Pacific region,
which covers all islands on the Pacific Ocean including New Zealand and New
Guinea (but not those of Southeast Asia). Focusing on Austronesian languages,
he describes their grouping and the diaspora of their speakers in developed
countries. Echoing the insignificance of small number of speakers to language
threat, he considers urbanization, access to education, and marriages between
speakers of different languages to be the major factors that impinge on language
Chapter eight, Endangered Languages of China and South-East Asia (pp. 112-120)
Moving beyond Australia/Oceania, David Bradley comments on language endangerment
in mainland Southeast Asia and China. The cursory survey of the linguistic
situation in seven countries should be read in the context that this vast region
is largely out of reach to foreign linguists for fieldwork in remote areas where
diverse languages are spoken.
Chapter nine, On the Edge of the Pacific: Indonesia and East Timor (pp. 121-130)
John Hajek surveys languages in Indonesia and East Timor. While many languages
with a small number (<500) of speakers are in critical endangerment, census
results of Indonesia indicate a rapid language shift to Indonesian between 1970
and 1990. Under the vigorous promotion of Indonesian as the national language,
other languages, even those with millions of speakers, have found themselves in
an increasingly threatened state.
Chapter ten, The Future of the Languages of Vanuatu and New Caledonia (pp. 131-136)
Jean-Michel Charpentier focuses on two Melanesian groups of islands. With
support from religious, political and international organizations, Vanuatu has
attempted to maintain its linguistic diversity since independence. The limited
achievement demonstrates just how daunting the enterprise of preserving the
linguistic heritage can be.
Chapter eleven, Trends and Shifts in Community Language Use in Australia,
1986-1996 (pp. 137-161)
Michael Clyne and Sandra Kipp look at a less studied aspect of the linguistic
wealth of Australia: community languages introduced by immigrants. Using data
from the census, they find that the shift from a community language to English
is affected by such factors as concentration of communities, cultural views on
language, cultural distance to English, and exogamy, etc.
Chapter twelve, Directions for Linguistic Research (pp. 162-179)
Rob Amery discusses the need to forge partnerships with indigenous communities
in keeping their languages alive and relevant to the modern world. He points
out that descriptive grammars can be of use in language revival programs, but
documenting an indigenous language merely within traditional domains will not
help it to function well in the modern times. Thus linguists should provide
necessary assistance in creating new words, instead of borrowing from English,
for the language to be used in the medical, technological, and scientific
Chapter thirteen, The Contribution of Language Education to the Maintenance and
Development of Australia's Language Resources (pp. 180-195)
D. E. Ingram addresses the role of language education in maintaining linguistic
diversity in Australia, for both indigenous and community languages. His
discussion covers such practical issues as languages in industry, language
teacher quality and supply, design of language programs, attitudes to language,
language rights, and the role of English, etc.
Chapter fourteen, Globalization, Languages and Technology (pp. 196-211)
Placing languages against the background of the Information Age, Denis
Cunningham highlights the stark contrast between the 'haves' and the
'have-nots'. He urges immediate action to be taken to make technology such as
the Internet available to speakers of indigenous languages so that more
languages can find their presence in the cyberspace.
Reports and studies on the linguistic situation in a number of countries in this
volume are informative and thought provoking, which represents the state of the
art of language use and endangerment in the greater Pacific region. The weight
of contribution appears to have tilted to languages in Australia as opposed to
languages of the Pacific islands. The four chapters on languages in Australia
are detailed in depth and wide in scope, addressing not only indigenous but also
community languages. Although there are also four chapters on the Pacific
islands (two on languages of Papua New Guinea, one on languages of Vanuatu and
New Caledonia, and one on Oceanic Austronesian languages), the overall depth and
scale are not as impressive, especially given the generally accepted view that
Papua New Guinea has the highest density of languages in the world. This point
is not to be taken as a criticism, but rather, it reflects yet another dimension
of inequality among languages of the world: those situated in developed
countries are more accessible to research and studies.
The stretching of the geographic notion of the Pacific to Southeast Asia and
even China in the scope of the book is a good editorial decision. Indonesia,
with its richness in languages and proximity, both geographic and linguistic, to
the Pacific, certainly deserves attention and discussion in this volume.
Notwithstanding the brevity of Bradley's account, it has at least conveyed the
message to the reader that there are more, many more languages out there, far
and remote, that may not be known by the world, not even their names. These
languages of mainland Southeast Asia and southern China may not look interesting
grammatically to some linguists, as they are presumably analytic with a
typological profile much like that of Mandarin and Thai, which some consider too
simple, but in fact much more challenging ? given few morphological clues ? for
a non-native speaker to describe and analyze properly. Nonetheless they
undeniably form an inseparable part of the diversity of human languages.
There is a general misperception, even among linguists, about the number of
speakers: the fewer speakers a language has, the more likely it is endangered;
on the contrary, the more speakers a language has, the less likely it is
endangered. Such a simplistic view can be misleading in measuring language
endangerment (Ding 2006b; cf. Sutherland 2003 for other factors involved in
gauging the risk of species extinction). Some authors in this volume also voice
their concerns about taking the number of speakers without making reference to
the linguistic ecology as an indicator of language endangerment. As dozens of
languages with less than 100 speakers have been spoken in Papua New Guinea for
centuries, Sumbuk suggests that a stable number of speakers is more important
than the population size of the speakers. On the other hand, Hajek, observing
the encroachment of Indonesian to other languages in the country, warns that
'some care should be taken when expressing the view that a large number of
speakers guarantees the future of a language.' (p. 124)
Since language shift in the modern times typically arises as a natural response
to the rapid and sudden change of the living environment, the ultimate solution
for sustaining linguistic diversity would lie in strategies which enhance the
original linguistic ecology of indigenous peoples. That is, the pressure for
adaptation should be redirected from speakers of indigenous languages to
languages per se through processes such as 'language modernization' (Ding 2006a)
and expansion of the domains of use of indigenous languages, as argued by Amery.
(For more discussion on an ecological approach, see Mühlhäusler 2003 and
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the volume is free from typos (as far as I
can tell), a rarity in publication of recent years. If I were pressed for
improvement of the book, I could only suggest a change of a larger font and
perhaps inclusion of a couple of chapters: one on languages in the Philippines,
and the other on New Zealand, where the Maori have successfully developed a
maintenance program called 'the language nest' to preserve their native tongue
(cf. Tsunoda 2005). Two authors have mentioned the Maori case in passing, but a
full chapter would inform the reader of a workable model and its achievement in
detail, which should be able to render the impression of the fight against
language loss less gloomy.
Bradley, David, ed. 2006. Heritage Maintenance for Endangered Languages in
Yunnan, China. Bundoora: La Trobe University.
Ding, Picus S. 2006a. Language modernization of Prinmi: Problems from promoting
orthography to language maintenance. In Bradley (2006), 19-26.
_____. 2006b. Approaches to linguistic diversity and biological diversity: A
critical comparison. Presented at the Language Culture and Mind Conference (II).
École Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications.
Mühlhäusler, Peter. 2003. Language endangerment and language revival. Journal of
Sociolinguistics, 7,2: 232-245.
Sutherland, William. 2003. Parallel extinction risk and global distribution of
languages and species. Nature, 423: 276-279.
Tsunoda, Tasaku. 2005. Language Endangerment and Language Revitalization.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Picus Sizhi Ding is a faculty member at Macao Polytechnic Institute. Taking
a holistic approach to linguistic research, he is interested in languages
of China, particularly those less-studied and under-studied. His interests
in languages are not confined to the grammar of languages, but extend also
to the well-being of minority languages and maintenance of linguistic
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