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Completing the Triangle: Revitalizing the Rapa Nui language

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Title:Completing the Triangle: Revitalizing the Rapa Nui language
Authors:Young, Forrest
Contributors:Young, Forrest (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:The revitalization of two languages of the Polynesian Triangle, Māori and `Ōlelo Hawai`i, are fundamental to international research on endangered language revitalization and the transnational social movement to reduce twenty-first century language death. Comparatively, the educational programs and linguistic issues related to the revitalization of the third language of the triangle, the indigenous Rapa Nui language of Easter Island (EAS), are significantly less known. Field research on Rapa Nui language revitalization programs reveals a strong pedagogical focus on teaching the language in terms of cultural heritage materials (traditional language genres and cultural practices) that avoids many of the authenticity concerns confronting the revitalization of Māori and `Ōlelo Hawai`i (Harlow 2005, NeSmith 2005, Wong 1999) and accords with regional Polynesian language community attitudes that stress the importance of cultural heritage content in language instruction (Housman et al 2011, Otsuka and Wong 2007, Taumoeolau et al. 2002, Waitangi Tribunal 2010). Besides complying with regional and island community attitudes, however, aesthetic linguistic theories of language revitalization that highlight cultural and social “form-dependent expression” (Woodbury 1998), and psycholinguistic theories that emphasize some syntactic structures are more important to language acquisition than others (Crain et al. 2009), suggests, contrary to revival linguistics (Thieberger 2002, Zuckerman and Walsh 2011), this pedagogical strategy to also be linguistically sound. I illustrate some of the strengths of Rapa Nui pedagogy through analysis of elementary school teaching materials on the affective, second person possessive pronoun tu`u. Analysis of Rapa Nui textbook teachings of the pronoun in terms of games and narratives steeped in cultural heritage materials, refines the psycholinguistic findings that educational stories and games are important to language acquisition (Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff 2012). Educational stories and games interwoven with very specific cultural heritage and linguistic form dependent-cultural practices may be necessary for revitalization of endangered indigenous languages like Rapa Nui. While acknowledging a pedagogical focus on cultural heritage materials should not come at the expense of sociolinguistic functional diversification of the language (Fishman 2001), or the intensity of psycholinguistic imput necessary for language acquisition (Hoff et al. 2012), culturally specific imput dialogical with traditional genres and social registers is critical to revitalizing endangered languages with significant form-dependent expressions. Like those of its “triangular” Polynesian siblings, the language revitalization programs of Rapa Nui have important lessons for enriching the global movement to document and conserve the world’s linguistic diversity.


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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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