LINGUIST List 23.2382

Fri May 18 2012

Review: Anthropological Ling.; Language Documentation: Senft (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 18-May-2012
From: Nicholas Williams <>
Subject: Endangered Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal languages
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EDITOR: Senft, GunterTITLE: Endangered Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal languagesSUBTITLE: Essays on language documentation, archiving and revitalizationSERIES TITLE: Pacific Linguistics 618PUBLISHER: Pacific LinguisticsYEAR: 2011

Nicholas J. Williams, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder

SUMMARYThis book is a collection of papers originally presented at the 6th Conferenceof the European Society for Oceanists (ESfO). The conference was themed 'PacificChallenges: Questioning Concepts, Rethinking Conflicts', and all the papers inthis volume were presented in a special session devoted to endangered languagescultures of the Pacific. While 'endangered languages of the Pacific' may seem tobe a relatively specific research area, the contributions to this edited volumedemonstrate the enormous range of the topic and theoretical and appliedapproaches to it. First, the range of languages included in the 'Pacific' and'Oceanic' categories is itself quite large, including all Austronesian, Papuanand Australian aboriginal languages, as well as languages of other families inSoutheast, South and East Asia. Second, responses to the issue of languageendangerment, since it started to enter the awareness of mainstream linguisticsmore than 20 years ago now, have included not only descriptive and documentaryefforts but also attempts to maintain threatened languages, prevent endangeredlanguages from undergoing further language shift as well as to revitalize highlyendangered and extinct languages. This short edited volume does not attemptcomprehensive coverage of these kinds of efforts in the Pacific, but simplypresents some case studies and examples of work being done by linguists andscholars in other disciplines to describe, document and preserve the manyendangered languages in the Pacific region.

The volume starts off with an introduction by the editor, Gunter Senft, knownfor his work on Kilivila, the language of the Trobriand Islanders, based on over30 years of research. In this chapter Senft frames the contributions within thewider literature on language endangerment and language death. Much of thediscussion draws on previous work in this area, especially Crystal (2000),including information on rates of language endangerment and death, proposedstages of this process, suggested causes, prerequisites for preservation andrevitalization and the response of linguists and other scholars. Following theseintroductory comments, he briefly summarizes each chapter and concludes byreaffirming the complexity of the topic of language endangerment and the wideranging 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 volumecovering such a wide range of issues). Part I focuses on the documentation ofendangered languages, Part II on archiving, and Part III on revitalization, whatSenft calls ''the three cornerstones of activities for endangered languages''(p5). Each chapter focuses on a different language or set of languages from theAustronesian and Australian Aboriginal language groups.

Darrell Tryon starts Part I with 'The endangered languages of Vanuatu'. Thischapter is a very brief overview of the language situation in Vanuatu, a countrywith one of the highest language densities in the world (at least 110 languagesand a population of only 220,000). The chapter notes previous surveys of Vanuatulanguages and discussions of recent efforts by the Vanuatu government andVanuatu Cultural Center/National Museum and their ni-Vanuatu fieldworkers todocument local knowledge of endangered languages. Included is a list all Vanuatulanguages, as well as lists of extinct and endangered languages. Tryon makes animportant distinction between two categories of extinct languages in Vanuatu --those whose names are remembered but for which little or no data is availableand those more recently extinct for which some information is available.

The next chapter, 'A field report on a language documentation project on theMarquesas in French Polynesia', by Gabriele H. Cablitz, reports on adocumentation project undertaken in the Marquesas, a string of islands in FrenchPolynesia. The chapter provides a wealth of information on the sociolinguisticsituation and the state of language endangerment in the Marquesas. Cablitzdiscusses several factors contributing to the endangerment of Marquesan,including the colonization of the Marquesas by the French, Tahitian hegemony inFrench Polynesia generally, problems with the French-based education system, andthe role of the relatively recent media revolution in the islands. She reportsthat Marquesans are in a stage of language shift from Marquesan to French as theeveryday language, then discusses cultural and linguistic revival in theMarquesas, highlighting the limitations of this revival, which has occurredprimarily via the medium of French. In light of these issues, a documentationproject has been conducted in the Marquesas in recent years. Marquesans'reactions to the project have varied, from open enthusiastic engagement toguarded secrecy of certain speech genres and linguistic and cultural knowledge.Overall the project has been a success, though, and in conclusion the authorpoints to an observed change in recent years with regard young people's languageattitudes, which are now giving more attention and respect to Marquesan.

In chapter 4, 'Language endangerment: situations of loss AND gain', Ingjerd Hoëmcritiques some assumptions behind concern with endangered languages includingthe idea that modern and western influences are corrupting and the mostauthentic documentation of a language and culture must avoid non-nativecontaminants. Her extended critique of these assumptions takes the form of ananalysis of some text types in modern Tokelau. Unlike many other languages inthe Pacific, Tokelau is not highly endangered, remaining the primary language ofcommunication in everyday settings in the three atolls where it is native.However, certain speech genres are threatened and many children in the Tokelaudiaspora (e.g. in New Zealand) have turned to English. This leads Hoëm todescribe the Tokelau situation in terms of both 'language loss' and 'languagegain'. This possibility of new genres of written and/or spoken language inendangered language situations is often overlooked.

Chapter 5, 'Culture change -- language change: missionaries and moribundvarieties of Kilivila,' represents the editor's own contribution based on morethan three years of field research on Kilivila and the Trobriand Islands between1982 and 2004. Senft documents two endangered speech genres in Kilivila ('bigabaloma' and 'biga megwa'). He also takes this opportunity to evaluate theoverall level of endangerment of Kilivila and to consider carefully the notionof language and cultural change with regard to these moribund ways of speaking.While languages and cultures always change, there are specific reasons to mournthe loss of many endangered languages, and in this case, endangered speechgenres. Senft points out that, unlike the dead languages of European antiquity,most languages being documented today have never been written before, and anymoribund varieties will likely die without any written records, were it not forthe efforts of documentary linguists.

Part II is comprised of three chapters on issues related to the archiving ofdocumentary materials. The first chapter (chapter 6), Nick Thieberger's'Linguistic preservation and linguistic responsibility: examples from thePacific', criticizes the often heard claim that linguists' documentation effortsare 'saving' endangered languages. If we are to come anywhere close to actuallypreserving these languages for posterity (whatever we might mean by 'saving'),we linguists need to do much more than write reference grammars of the languageswe purport to 'save' or 'document'. Thieberger suggests some best practices forarchiving documentary records of endangered languages so that these records lastand remain accessible to both linguists and the communities they originate from.The discussion is based on the author's experiences with PARADISEC, the 'PacificAnd Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures'. He emphasizescareful treatment of metadata and warns about inappropriate use of documentedmaterials if informed consent and information about access rights are notobtained from speakers. The chapter ends with a discussion of some implicationsfor current fieldwork projects. He further suggests ways in which archivedmaterials may be linked together using predictable structure to produce richlyinterlinked documents. These issues are of utmost importance to linguistsworking with endangered languages whose responsibility it is to preserve thebest 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 theTechnical 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 theinfluence of digital technology on research in linguistics and on thedocumentation of endangered languages in particular. The paper is similar toThieberger's, although they delve into more detail regarding the archiving ofdocumentary materials, as well as the current and potential users of archivematerials. They outline the architecture of a modern language archive and endthe paper with a lengthy discussion of advanced methods for providing access tothe resources held in language archives. This is a thorough discussion of thenature of language archives and what language archives should strive for. Itpoints to several directions for future development in archive management.

Part II closes with a chapter by David Blundell, Michael Buckland, JeanetteZereke, Yu-Hsiu Lu and Andrew Limond entitled 'Empowering Pacific languages andcultures mapping with applied case studies in Taiwan and the Philippines'. Thischapter presents several projects associated with the Electronic Cultural AtlasInitiative (ECAI), started at the University of California, Berkeley. Thisinitiative attempts to connect different parts of the world through plottingdata from various kinds of research along with spatial-temporal data. Theprojects discussed include (i) a digital atlas of languages of the Pacific, (ii)a map of Formosan Austronesian languages, (iii) an interface to Cebuano librarycatalogue records, and (iv) fieldwork on language and culture mapping of Lan-yu(Taiwan) and the Batanes Islands (Philippines). These various projects representattempts at applying findings of research on endangered languages and making theresults accessible and viewable in a spatio-temporal format.

The book's final section deals with revitalization efforts and issues involvedin the revitalization of endangered languages. The first is Margaret Florey andMichael Ewing's 'Political acts and language revitalization: community and statein Maluku'. This chapter focuses on the authors' efforts to document andrevitalize languages in Central Maluku, Indonesia. This area is characterized bythe highest rate of language endangerment in Indonesia, with as many as 50% ofthe languages endangered. The authors discuss the effects of a period of civilunrest in the region between 1998 and 2002, called the 'kerusuhan'. While theviolence during this period caused great damage to the local infrastructure andintroduced rifts between Christian and Muslim communities, efforts atreconciliation in recent years have led to a never before seen interest in locallanguages ('bahasa tanah') as part of the cultural heritage of Maluku and onepiece of reconciliation and rebuilding a Malukan identity. Following thesechanges, the authors organized a training program for local teachers andlanguage activists to teach the methods of language documentation andrevitalization. The aim is for future documentation and revitalization projectsto be conducted by native speakers in Maluku, and the authors see this as amodel for similar efforts elsewhere.

In chapter 10, Jakelin Troy and Michael Walsh re-evaluate the language situationin southeast Australia, where it has been widely assumed that all or nearly allaboriginal languages are extinct. On the contrary, Troy and Walsh argue thatthis view is mistaken in light of a range of recent documentation andrevitalization efforts in the three provinces (New South Wales, South Australiaand Victoria) which comprise southeast Australia. A handful of languages in thisarea are now being taught and learned by aboriginal and non-aboriginalAustralians, as high as the university level. The authors emphasize the need forindigenous consultation and control in any revitalization efforts.

The final three chapters volume are all concerned with the revitalization ofMāori 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 effortsmade 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 modelfor other revitalization programs, as well as the 'Kura Kaupapa Māori' and'Wharekura' or 'Māori Language Schools'. Today there are even 'Te WhareWananga', Māori Universities. Māori is truly a language revitalization successstory.

Chapter 12, by Diane Johnson, reports on a research project underway that aimsto evaluate claims that Māori students differ in terms of learning stylepreferences. Entitled, 'Learning style preferences and New Zealand Māoristudents: questioning folk wisdom', this chapter uses a standardized tool forevaluating learning style preferences to test both Māori and non-Māori studentsin New Zealand between the ages 10 and 14 (approximately). While Māori studentsare often claimed to prefer oral, interactive and task-centered learning, thepreliminary results of this research suggest that learning style preferencesmight be much more individual than culturally-based. Furthermore, certainlearning style preferences might develop as a product of the very learningenvironment the children are exposed to in earlier elementary school years. Thiskind of research has important implications for curricula development and theteaching and learning of other endangered languages.

Finally, in chapter 13, 'Classroom-based language revitalization: theinteraction between curriculum planning and teacher development in the case ofMāori language', Winifred Crombie discusses development of a curriculum documentfor the teaching and learning of Māori as a school subject in New Zealand.Crombie outlines the process of drafting the curriculum document, as well assome issues that arose in the process of review and how she responded to these.The discussion will be valuable to anyone developing classroom curricula forendangered languages in language revitalization programs elsewhere.

EVALUATIONThis volume makes an important contribution to the growing literature onlanguage endangerment and the responses of linguists (mainly documentation,archiving and revitalization). It provides a wealth of information on particularAustronesian and Australian Aboriginal languages. As a whole the book raises thecall for more and higher quality work on the enormous number of endangeredlanguages yet to be documented. It furthermore points to several ways we canimprove the work being done, namely by documenting all types of speech and thecultural context of the language, by looking for new emerging varieties orstyles, by paying careful attention to the quality of our documentation andarchival issues. A theme that runs through many of the contributions is theimportance of ethical research and consideration of the communities efforts andinterest (or lack thereof) in documentation and language maintenance projects.Overall this is an excellent volume which raises many important questions andmotivates the coming generation of linguists to produce a very high qualityrecord of the languages we still have.

My main criticism is that it reads much more like a set of conferenceproceedings than a thematically well-developed volume. In fact, all the paperswere originally conference papers presented at the 6th Conference of theEuropean Society for Oceanists (ESfO). Aside from the editor's introductorycomments in Chapter 1, which frame the twelve contributions and provide anoverall theme for the book, there is little to bring the book together as awhole 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 tofit comfortably in one volume. While the first few chapters will be of muchinterest to other linguists undertaking language documentation projects in thePacific region, the chapters in Part III on revitalization of Māori will be lessrelevant (and vice versa). Furthermore, while some of the issues in thearchiving chapters are important for all linguists in the field of languagedocumentation to consider, they each go into perhaps too much detail for anyoneother than an archivist. Another issue is the lack of an index, which would beuseful considering the range of topics covered.

To be certain, the entire book is an enjoyable and quick read for anyoneconcerned with any of the myriad issues involved in language documentation andrevitalization. Nevertheless, it might have been improved by linking the paperstogether a bit more and more attention to coherence.

REFERENCESCrystal, David. 2000. Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERNicholas Williams is a PhD student at the University of Colorado atBoulder, USA. He is beginning a project to document language and socialinteraction in Kula, an endangered non-Austronesian language of easternAlor, Indonesia. His doctoral dissertation research takes an interactionalapproach to place reference in Kula. His interests include languagedocumentation and description, Papuan and Austronesian languages,interactional linguistics, conversation analysis, and linguistic anthropology.

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