Indigenous Languages Need More Attention

By Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby

A lot of attention and awareness raising is needed to protect more of our indigenous languages from becoming extinct.

Speaking to EM TV today, social language expert Dr Kilala Devette shared her concerns about the status of Papua New Guinea’s indigenous languages.

Dr Devette is a new member of the National Research Institute. For 12 years, she taught at the University of Papua New Guinea in the linguistics department.

She shares similar views with her collegues at the university on the influence of western culture threatening the survival of Papua New Guinean languages.

In terms of numbers, she says the very basics still need to be done.

“Most languages in PNG, we have not documented. That is why a lot of these small languages died out without being written about. Their grammars were not written,” she says.

She offers more statistics which add to the worrying picture given by her colleagues.

“According to Grimes, 2000; 40 languages in PNG have less than 100 speakers. That is a real danger,” she says.

Dr Devette says the vernacular system and the outcome-based education strategy was an attempt by the government to retain our languages.

She says the failure was in the implementation of the vision in the Matane Report.

“One very good strategy to preserve PNG languages is to include the education system, which we did, but it was the implementation that did not work.”

If we are to do it better, she suggests we do not use a transitional system like the last one.

Dr Devette says more awareness need to begin at home. A quick survey of 20 EM TV employees showed that those who come from a home with parents speaking different indigenous languages either don’t know their parents’ languages or know very little. For those who do know the language, it is their mother’s language they are familiar with.

“It begins at home… thousands of PNG children today use Tok Pisin as their mother tongue or L1, their first language and that is one of the problems we have today,” she said.

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