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Reading dictionaries in the dark: The significance of evolving language materials

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Title:Reading dictionaries in the dark: The significance of evolving language materials
Authors:Schreyer, Christine
Contributors:Schreyer, Christine (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:Three women, finished their work for the day, huddle around a copy of the Kala dictionary (2012), reading it aloud to one another via the beam of a flashlight. This is just one of the many vivid images of dictionary reading that remain in my memory from my 2013 trip to the Kala language communities, where I have been involved in assisting the Kala Language Committee with their language documentation and revitalization work. Kala, an Austronesian language with four dialects, is spoken in six coastal villages in Morobe province, Papua New Guinea. In 2006, due to concerns about the encroachment of Tok Pisin, the national lingua franca, and English, the national language of education, Kala speakers developed the Kala Language Committee (KLC) with the goal of strengthening the use of Kala in their communities, particularly in schools.

In 2010, I conducted a preliminary phonological analysis of the Kala language in order to provide orthographic suggestions to the KLC. Kala had been the focus of two other brief sets of language documentation (Collier and Collier, 1975; Johnson, 1994), however, neither of these resulted in an orthography that Kala speakers embraced. The current Kala language project has been community-based and community-led from the outset and this perhaps has led to more success. Since the acceptance of the current orthography, literacy materials, school curriculum, and a dictionary, the focus of this presentation, have been developed - the first materials that have ever been written in Kala. They provide community members with a great sense of pride, which in turn has led to an increase in the prestige of the Kala language. As well, since this dictionary includes all four dialects, each one is given equal status, rather than a focus on a standardized Kala.

In this paper, therefore, I argue that continually evolving language materials are important for prestige planning (Haaramann, 1999). As well, community members need to be involved in the evolution of these materials, from the beginning edits to new editions of books, so that any changes are more easily accepted and embraced. As orthographies stabilize, as people remember that some words are borrowed, that languages change, language materials need to evolve as well. Inspired by the recent social media trend to “Get Your Manuscript Out”, in this paper I encourage academics and language activists to “Get Their Language Documentation Out” rather than let it sit on a shelf collecting dust.


Collier, Ken, and Margaret Collier. 1975. A tentative phonemic statement of the Apoze
dialect, Kela language. Workpapers in Papua New Guinea Languages 13. 129-161.

Johnson, Morris. 1994. Organized Phonology data of Kela. Unpublished manuscript.
SIL, Ukarumpa.

Haarmann, Harald. 1990. Language planning in the light of a general theory of language: A methodological framework. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 86, 103–126.
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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