Preserving Indigenous Pacific Languages

A couple of articles regarding Pacific Islands languages had recently come to my attention and that I have been meaning to share.

First, Radio Australia reported that To draw attention to the risks of language loss and to document more Pacific languages Australian researchers are trialing a new way of making their database of languages more exciting and accessible. In a bid to make a database of Pacific languages less dull, researchers turn to virtual reality technology that lets audiences “fly across” the region hearing local lingo and accents.

The Pacific is the most linguistically rich region in the world, with Papua New Guinea alone being home to a staggering 850 languages. Yet experts fear that widespread language loss could be the future for the region.

To draw attention to the issue, and to document more Pacific languages, Australian researchers are trialling a new way of making their database of languages more exciting and accessible.

To do this, they are turning to virtual reality technology. “We’ve got this fantastic resource — a database of a thousand endangered languages,” lead researcher Dr Nick Thieberger from the University of Melbourne said. “But it’s not very engaging, it’s a bit dull, so we wanted to do something to change that.”

I happened to have the good fortune to hear a presentation given by Mr. Thieberger at the recent PARBICA conference last September in Fiji. In fact, you can view his presentation on the PARBICA Website by clicking here and then scrolling down towards the bottom of the page. It is titled Engaging Digital Heritage with Source Communities: The Pacific and Regional Archives for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC).


The second article came from Radio New Zealand where they reported that in the Northern Marianas, efforts are underway to preserve the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian languages by reviving a special commission focusing on the languages.

The Northern Mariana Islandsalso called Northern Marianas, and officially Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States. It is composed of 22 islands and islets in the western Pacific Ocean.

The Chamorro/Carolinian Language Policy Commission met a couple of months ago with representatives of the Indigenous Affairs Office, Carolinian Affairs Office, and the Public School System to discuss their nominees for the body. It has been almost seven years since the commission had members.

A language survey done in the community last year illustrated the urgency of the commission’s work, as the languages are slowly dying. Commission members must be able to translate English into written and spoken Chamorro or Carolinian. The list of nominees will be finalized at the next meeting.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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