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"Don't talk to him! His family speaks a bit mixed." Multilingualism from the perspective of the documenter

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Title: "Don't talk to him! His family speaks a bit mixed." Multilingualism from the perspective of the documenter
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: This paper will describe the frustrating situation of starting a documentation project within a multilingual community, where informants would characterize other speakers as "speaking a bit mixed". From the perspective of a linguist carrying out a documentation, this leads to a continuous stream of conflicting evidence. Speaker A would correct one day’s findings and Speaker B would re-correct them the next day. The paper will suggest strategies of how to deal with this problem.

Since 2010, the author has been working on Kmnzo, a language spoken in Rouku village, in the extreme South West of Papua New Guinea. Kmnzo belongs to the Morehead Upper- Maro family. The language family is believed to divide into three subgroups by Gordon (Ethnologue 2005): Yei in the West, Nambu in the East, and central Tonda. Kmnzo is a Tonda language, which includes about ten varieties. With the exception of Sarsa (2001) and Bouvé & Bouvé (2003), little has been published on these languages.

In order to understand the "mixed up" situation today, one has to reconstruct the past. Ayres (1983: 16ff.) describes that in the 60’s the government undertook a policy of consolidating small hamlets into larger villages. This is against the traditional way of life, which involved non-permanent hamlets with no more than a clan or family. Nowadays, villages range between 150 and 300 inhabitants. In the case of Kmnzo this has had a double impact. On the one side, speakers are distributed across the village of Rouku, which lies in the center of the language area, and Morehead, where the regional primary school is situated. On the other hand, a significant part of the population of Rouku is starting to shift to the neighboring variety Wára. The connection between village consolidation and language shift is less direct here. The Morehead people practice direct sister exchange. A woman moves to her husband’s village and henceforth starts speaking the local variety. The men enforce their language over "mother’s language". In larger villages, this enforcement can fail and create a situation where children grow up speaking "mother’s language".

For an outsider, who enters the scene at this point, the situation is rather confusing. There are two closely related varieties of a dialect chain spoken in the same village. One of the two is referred to as the "bad mother’s language". Informants are discouraging the documenter from working with "those people" for reason of linguistic purity. However, the very same informants are characterized by others as "speaking a bit mixed". The tedious work of pulling the varieties apart without interfering in language politics, require some ad-hoc solutions which will be described in the paper.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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