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Assessing the Communicability of Wellness and Illness in Mangarevan, French Polynesia

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Title: Assessing the Communicability of Wellness and Illness in Mangarevan, French Polynesia
Authors: Mawyer, Alexander
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2017
Description: Relatively discrete, highly context-sensitive semantic domains pose a challenge to conservation efforts for academic fieldworkers and community members alike. The documentation and assessment of the current state of language in sociocultural contextual use may be among the thorniest challenges for the development of effective conservation strategies (Himmelmann and Mosel 2006). Moreover, some domains offer fewer affordances for contextual engagement than others. This is notably the case when domains are status or gender marked, entangled with normative pragmatics encouraging silence, or when they have been historically sensitive to change or loss. In French Polynesia’s Gambier Islands, the language of wellness and health is a fundamental example of a semantic domain located at the intersection of historical and contemporary significance yet highly challenging to sensitive language documentation and revitalization efforts. This work focuses on Mangarevan, among the currently most endangered Polynesian languages (Charpentier and Francoise 2015). Drawing on 19th century lexicographical efforts, fieldwork in the community’s primary clinic in 2002, and LD&C efforts by a Mangarevan language documentation and revitalization group active in the early 2000s, this work seeks to document and assess the changing status of the language of disease. This paper draws attention to evidence of previous role and current obsolescence or loss of focal or nuanced dimensions of illness and wellness for human and natural kinds: (i) as an telling measurement “of vitality rather than endangerment” (Grenoble 2016:293); (ii) as offering a potentially remarkable window on 19th century social and cultural history in a Polynesian context where the population collapsed from at least 2500 persons in the 1830s to fewer than 500 persons by the 1880s due to the presence of introduced disease; and (iii) as an intriguing comparative domain with respect to closely related Eastern Polynesian languages which experienced similar but divergent 19th century health histories. Working References: Best, E., 1905. Maori Medical Lore. Notes on Sickness and Disease Among the Maori People of New Zealand, and their Treatment of the Sick; Together with Some Account of Various Beliefs, Superstitions and Rites Pertaining to Sickness, and the Treatment thereof, as Collected from the Tuhoe Tribe. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 14(1 (53), 1-23. Briggs, C. L., 2005. Communicability, racial discourse, and disease. Annu. Rev. Anthropol., 34, 269-291. Cablitz, G., and F. Chong. 2009a. The Documentation of Endangered Linguistic, Lexical and Cultural Knowledge of the Marquesan and Tuamotuan Languages of French Polynesia. 11ème Inter-congrès des Sciences du Pacifique Joint aux 2nd Assises de la recherche française dans le Pacifique, 2-6 mars, TAHITI, Polynésie Française. Charpentier, J.M. and A. François, 2015. Atlas Linguistique de la Polynésie Française—Linguistic Atlas of French Polynesia. Berlin, Papeete: de Gruyter & Université de la Polynésie Française Dobrin, Lise; Peter K. Austin; & David Nathan. 2009. 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A response to ‘Assessing levels of endangerment in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) using the Language Endangerment Index (LEI)’, by Nala Huiying Lee & John Van Way. Language in Society, 45, pp 293-300. Howard, Alan. 1979. The Power to Heal in Colonial Rotuma. Journal of the Polynesian Society 88(3):243-275. Laval, H., 1968. Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de Mangareva ère chrétienne 1834-1871. Publications de la Société des Océanistes, No 15, Musée de l’Homme. Paris, France: Edités par C.W. Newbury & P. O’Reilly. Lee, Nala Huiying and John Van Way. 2016. Assessing Levels of Endangerment in the Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) using the Language Endangerment Index (LEI). Language in Society. Vol.45(2):271-292 Marin, Paul and Claude Combes, 1996. “Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Depopulation of French Polynesia in the 19th Century.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 2, No. 4: 359-360. Moore, Robert E.; Sari Pietikäinen; & Jan Blommaert, 2010. Counting the losses: Numbers as the language of language endangerment. Sociolinguistic Studies 4(1):1–26. Rensch, Karl, 1994. Early European Influences on the Languages of Polynesia: Mangareva. In Dutton, Tom and Darrell T. Tryon (Eds). 1994. Language Contact and Change in the Austronesian World. T rends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 77. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1994. Vigneron E., 1991. Hommes et santé en Polynésie Française. Montpellier.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/42040
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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