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Endangered poetics: Assessing ethnolinguistic vitality in the Francophone Pacific

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Title:Endangered poetics: Assessing ethnolinguistic vitality in the Francophone Pacific
Authors:Mawyer, Alexander
Manuireva, Ena
Contributors:Mawyer, Alexander (speaker)
Manuireva, Ena (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:The documentation and assessment of the current state of language in socially and culturally contextual use remains one of the continuing challenges of the development of effective conservation strategies (Gippert, Himmelmann and Mosel 2006). Thoroughly sophisticated and capacious documentation of grammatical structure and lexical domains may nevertheless be inadequate to documenting and evaluating necessary dimensions of language in sociocultural practice for conservation or revitalization purposes. In conversation with recent works that seek to bridge some of the gaps between documentation and revitalization efforts elsewhere in French Polynesia (Cablitz, Ringersma, Kemps-Snijders 2007; Zinn, Cablitz, Ringersma, Kemps-Snijders, and Wittenburg 2008; Cablitz and Chong 2009a, 2009b), we investigate a series of poetic traditions in French Polynesia’s Gambier Islands. Specifically we examine and critically reevaluate the current status of Mangarevan, an understudied Eastern Polynesian language, in the Mangarevan community in both home islands and in diaspora in the Society Islands. We suggest, on one hand, that documenting four distinct poetic genres in Mangarevan offers an interesting tool for assessing the state of this language and characterizing aspects of language change and shift over the last decades and century. We document the erosion and eventual loss over the 20th century of two genres, significant endangerment for another genre, and the perhaps surprising resilience of a forth genre. On the other hand, we suggest that adequately documenting and engaging with poetic genres can be (re)evaluated for use as an significant tool for developing effective strategies to scaffold linguistic endurance and revitalization efforts (Lewis and Simmons 2010; Dwyer 2011). Indeed, our work with speakers of this language over the last decade, across several generations, including one of the authors’ insights as an indigenous speaker, suggests that meaningful scaffolds for future maintenance and revitalization efforts may be identified in the community’s experience of the loss and endurance of the various traditional poetry genres. Situated at the intersection of concerns with historically and socioculturally sensitive language documentation and revitalization efforts, we argue that identifying some of the poetic dimensions of language shift and loss in Mangarevan affords a more nuanced metric for assessing the current state of the language, and critical features of the community’s experience of language change including anxieties about the past and present and hopes for the future.


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.

Cablitz, G., and F. Chong. 2009b. Empowerment and Capacity Building in Endangered Speech Communities : an Example from 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.

Cablitz, G., J. Ringersma, and M. Kemps-Snijders, M., 2007. Visualizing endangered indigenous languages of French Polynesia with LEXUS. In Proc. of the 11th Int’l Conf. on Information Visualization. IEEE Computer Society.

Dwyer, Arienne M. 2011. Tools and techniques for endangered-language assessment and revitalization. In Vitality and Viability of Minority Languages. October 23-24, 2009. New York: Trace Foundation Lecture Series Proceedings. Preprint. Online:

Gippert, J., N.P. Himmelmann, and U. Mosel (eds.), 2006. Essentials of language documentation. Mouton de Gruyter. Berlin.

Lewis, M.P. and G. Simons. 2010. Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique/Romanian Review of Linguistics, v. 2.

Zinn, C., G. Cablitz, J. Ringersma, M. Kemps-Snijders and P. Wittenburg. 2008. Constructing Knowledge Spaces from Linguistic Resources. Paper presented at CIL 18, Workshop 12 on Linguistic Studies of Ontology: From Lexical Semantics to Formal Ontologies and Back, July 21-26, 2008, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
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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