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Conservation²: The relationship between Kala language conservation and marine conservation in coastal Papua New Guinea

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Title: Conservation²: The relationship between Kala language conservation and marine conservation in coastal Papua New Guinea
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In this paper we describe a collaboration among anthropologists, marine biologists and the Kala Language Committee in support of the combined goals of language revitalization, marine conservation and development of Kala elementary school curriculum. The Kala language, with four distinct dialects, is spoken in six coastal villages of Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea, where marine resources provide residents with the overwhelming majority of their dietary protein. In 2006, due to concerns about language shift, Kala speakers developed the Kala Language Committee (KLC). The KLC’s goals were to promote Kala rather than acquiesce to Melanesian pidgin (Tok Pisin), the national lingua franca, and English, the national language of education. A related goal was the documentation of Kala environmental knowledge because Tok Pisin, unlike Kala, uses general categories of description rather than words that convey specific information (e.g., species, sex, and age of animals).

Concurrently with the language project, marine conservation research began in the Kala-speaking village of Kamiali. Primary goals were to document marine biodiversity, suggest ways to sustainably manage marine resources, and develop tools to help village residents evaluate the sustainability of their fishing practices. An early hurdle to information transfer to village residents was that no written language efficiently conveyed which species were under discussion; scientific names were overwhelming, whereas common English or Tok Pisin names were ambiguous. The problem was resolved in 2010 when the KLC developed and adopted a Kala orthography. The writing system permitted documentation of Kala fish names, which were subsequently used in publications and educational materials which serve to increase local comprehension of marine-conservation research and guidelines. Continued marine conservation research resulted in the development of a poster with sustainable fishing suggestions and a school curriculum for community-based marine-resource monitoring, which were fully translated into Kala.

We argue that the attention paid to the Kala language via the KLC’s efforts has led to increased awareness of marine diversity and the importance of conservation, as well as to increased awareness of the etymology of Kala terms and associated cultural knowledge. Therefore, building on recent literature about the benefits of collaborative approaches to both language documentation and in situ biodiversity conservation, we argue here for the benefits of engaging with community members in projects that simultaneously document linguistic and ecological knowledge. As well, we argue that integrating the academic disciplines of linguistic anthropology, ecological anthropology and conservation biology can lead to better biolinguistic diversity conservation practices.


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Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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