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Hiroko Sato: When collaboration is not an option: fieldwork in Kove, Papua New Guinea

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Title: Hiroko Sato: When collaboration is not an option: fieldwork in Kove, Papua New Guinea
Authors: Sato, Hiroko
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: Collaborative work with community members is one of the issues increasingly emphasized in the field of language documentation. However, if community members are indifferent or negative toward their languages, it can be difficult for a researcher to work with them. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss my experience of collaborative work in Kove (PNG), and the role of researchers in a situation where community members are indifferent toward their language. Kove is spoken in West New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. As is generally seen in much of New Britain and Melanesia, the Kove area shows considerable linguistic diversity. Kove is primarily spoken in an area where it is surrounded by five other indigenous languages. In addition to local linguistic diversity, with modernization, educational developments and social interactions, Kove people have begun to use Tok Pisin and English as lingua francas for communication. During my fieldwork among the Kove, I have observed that the number of languages spoken is different for different generations and for the different genders. For example, an elderly woman may speak only the Kove language, a middle-aged woman may speak Kove and Tok Pisin, and some middle-aged men might speak English in addition to Kove and Tok Pisin. Among younger people, it is common to speak all three of these languages. From my observations, community members, especially in younger generations, are rapidly losing language competence in their heritage language. However, as in many other marginalized minority communities, the Kove people are not aware of the existing imminent threat to their language. Although they are losing the language, many Kove speakers are indifferent to their language and do not care whether the language is spoken or not. They were equally indifferent to what research I might be doing on their language. During my fieldwork, I found that I could not collaborate with the community members of Kove, even if I established good relationships with them. If they have indifferent or negative attitudes toward the language, speakers may not be willing to engage in collaborative work with linguists. In my fieldwork, I have had to confront difficult questions about my role as an outside linguist. For example, how can I collaborate with this community on language documentation? Should I wait until they realize the importance of the language? The fact is that I cannot engage in collaborative work with unwilling and uninterested community members. However, even if linguists cannot collaborate with community members, this is still the goal we need to work toward. And even in the absence of community collaboration or interest, it is important and significant to record the linguistic practices and traditions of a community.
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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