Papua New Guinea’s Languages Need Protection

by Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby

There is not enough effort by the government to protect Papua New Guinean languages from becoming extinct.

This concern was raised by two academics from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG).

Dr Sakarepe Kamene and Dr Steven Winduo say our government is not placing enough value and priority in protecting our languages and essentially our cultures.

Dr Kamene is one of UPNG’s longest serving academics. His specialty is linguistics.

One of his late colleagues, Prof Otto Nekitel, published a book on indigenous Papua New Guinean languages; statistics within that book shows that 12 languages have already become extinct. For those that remain, the numbers don’t look good.

“Out of 800 languages (in Papua New Guinea), half of that number has less than 2,000 speakers; that means half of our languages are threatened,” Dr Kamene says.

In a nation that is known worldwide for its cultural diversity, Dr Kamene says the dealth of Papua New Guinean languages is an extremely critical issue that needs to be addressed.

“Languages contain our identity. They also contain knowledge, knowledge of our history and about how we behave in social situations such as occasions of death.”

His collegue, Dr Steven Winduo, currently heads the Academic Audit Unit and has been a long-time advocate of the protection of our languages and cultures.

“This is a conversation we should be having as a nation,” he says as he refers to a feature EM TV did on a community in Madang that fears the loss of their language and culture.

He says history has shown that people with little monetary or economic power who live in a multilingual society like Papua New Guinea have an advantage over those who live in a monolingual society or one where only one language is spoken.

“Those with power impose on those who do not have power. Most of our people do not have such powers, and maybe language is the only power they have.”

Both academics agree that the onslaughts of western influence is a very real threat to the survival of our languages. Dr Winduo says we need a ‘Language Institute’ that trains Papua New Guinea’s to work with communities to ensure the survival of our languages.

He says their work will “make sure that there are activities that will enhance the language surviving.”

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