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I've just been pointed to an interesting program on SBS radio on language use in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. Greg Muller interviews Bill Foley and Sana Banai who is a Hakö speaker from Buka Island, near Bougainville. Both Sana and Bill talk about language and identity, and vernacular literacy. And they both talk about the spread of Tok Pisin, how it is a unifying language, the language of mates, the most common language in Port Moresby, and now is becoming a lingua franca. (Surprising isn't it that Tok Pisin isn't taught in schools and universities in Australia? Where are the intensive courses for our soldiers going off to be peace-keepers?)

For many of the smaller languages (fewer than 1000 speakers) there aren't teachers who know the languages, and there's less practical use for vernacular literacy. Vernacular literacy becomes an identity concern. They both say that clan membership is more important than language, as a badge of identity, and Bill suggests it is a trade item - rather different from what we see in Australia where language is bound with land and with the ancestral beings associated with the language. Sana talks about the languages of Bougainville, and the change in policy in the 1980s to using local languages in schools, and the dynamics of language use in the family - how it is rude to talk to family members in anything other than the local language.

Bill also talks about the effect of 45,000 years of habitation and cultural diffusion on trying to track down language relations among the thousand or so languages in PNG.

Worth listening to - and there's some pleasant music.


Just as surprising as their is virtually no Kriol language education made available for the hundreds of professionals working in Kriol speaking communities... which actually isn't that surprising at all when you look at it in context all the other stupid things that happen in this country.

I've too often caught myself saying that there's not much in the way of geographical dialects in Australia. Completely ignoring the diversity of Aboriginal English and Kriol. So, yes, it's well over time to look seriously into how to teach in schools where the home language is Kriol. Joyce Hudson's FELIKS (Fostering English Language in Kimberley Schools) programme was a fine start, and has been taken up a bit - mostly by linguists like Rebecca Green and Denise Angelo. But it needs to be built on! And then there's health, law courts, government departments......

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.


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