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Are our documentation projects speeding up language change?

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Title:Are our documentation projects speeding up language change?
Authors:Salisbury, Mary
Contributors:Salisbury, Mary (speaker)
Date Issued:14 Mar 2009
Description:Pukapukan is a minority language spoken in the Northern Cook Islands, characterised by diglossia in which the national language, Cook Islands Maori, is used for religious, political and educational functions. For informal settings Pukapukan is the preferred language, but there is also a degree of code-mixing with the national language. Most of the 5,000 speakers live in New Zealand and Australia, with only about 500 people living on the home island itself. In the migrant setting there is widespread Pukapukan-Cook Islands Maori-English multilingualism and language shift to English taking place, yet there is a strong sense of solidarity resulting in the minority language taking precedence over the national language of the Cook Islands for formal spoken registers. Language documentation initiatives are highly valued by Pukapukan communities in every location, but the documentation projects themselves appear to be agents for language change in the direction of conservatism, especially in the migrant setting. Words that are almost obsolete are being revived and archaic words are acquiring new meanings in the process of documentation. Both lexical items and grammatical particles which are perceived to be of Cook Islands Maori origin are being excluded from text-based materials by respected native speakers who are expert in the culture. Their perception is often based on a word containing distinctive sounds of the language which are not present in the national language, or the existence of lexical doublets in which a word found also in the national language is rejected as Pukapukan irrespective of the linguistic evidence that it has pan-Polynesian cognates. As a result, a formal written register is being established where none previously existed. Native speakers view the revival of the old language with reverence saying that this is their “real language”, yet some perceptive native speakers recognise that a “new language” is being recorded. Tensions are also evident between the aspirations of the home island and the migrant population. The documentation process itself could result in the emergence of a conservative spoken dialect in the migrant setting and may even hasten language loss if the younger generation perceives the load of learning old words to be too great to enjoy literacy in the language. The need for community training in the foundational elements of comparative linguistics is highlighted as an aspect of training in documentation methods. The role of the linguist working in partnership with the community is also addressed.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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