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Bridging the gap between excellent linguistic resources and the capacity of islanders to utilize them for creating meaningful written materials

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Title:Bridging the gap between excellent linguistic resources and the capacity of islanders to utilize them for creating meaningful written materials
Authors:Ellis, James
Contributors:Ellis, James (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:Micronesia is one region in the world where there has been high quality documentation and conservation efforts of major languages in terms of grammars and dictionaries, training, and materials production [1]. This came about though an expenditure of several million dollars and fourteen years of scholarly effort starting in 1970 (Rehg 2004). But the intended outcome of that massive project—robust vernacular education—was never realized. English continues to dominate education. Perhaps the main reason for this, as Rehg 2004 explains, is that the linguistically-correct orthographies were never fully accepted. Another reason of particular interest to this presentation, was that the grammars—written with both linguists and non-linguists in mind—proved to be not user-friendly enough for the islanders: bilingual teachers, students, writers, translators.

One of our current tasks in Isles-of-the-Sea is the development of a simplified grammar that will be meaningful to speakers of some eight very-closely related (and all endangered) languages among the islands and atolls of the western Caroline Islands in Micronesia. The project has emerged as a result of the need, on the part of island writers and translators, to make use of the linguistic features that set Carolinian languages apart from others—linguistic features that Carolinian writers/translators want to harness and inject into material that their fellow islanders will enjoy reading.

This presentation describes how specific methods that are successfully being used in other parts of the world to give indigenous speakers access to their own grammars can be applied to the Caroline Island context. This includes capitalizing on learning styles and settings that are consistent with the island mind-set. For instance, rather than linear methods of learning where students are expected to understand lower-level features of grammar (phonemes, morphemes) before moving to the higher linguistic realm—the realm that is the point of departure in everyday communication—an island learner needs to discover the more encompassing higher level features first, discover how to use them productively, and to use them as frameworks within which to understand how the lower level features fit into the overall scope of effective Carolinian communication. Self-discovery is one key to internalizing the grammatical and discourse functions that can be used to make written material hit home. The aim is for Carolinian writers to build upon sociolinguistically-governed speech styles and genre leading to use of a syntax and morphology that reflects Carolinian ways of communicating—rather than reflecting English ways of communicating.

Rehg, Kenneth. 2004. Linguists, Literacy, and the Law of Unintended Consequences. Oceanic Linguistics, Volume 43, Number 2, December 2004.

[1] Rehg (2004) writes: “In 1970...the languages of Micronesia were among the most poorly documented in the Pacific. Today, they rank among the best.”
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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