To preserve our languages & culture we must be bold


Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude 12 January 2015

THE threat of the world’s languages fading away and dying is an age-old reality. It is not unique to the 21st century.

This fate will befall hundreds of Papua New Guinea’s languages. History tells us of the deliberate methods crafted to destroy many indigenous languages and cultures – leading to the domination of nations. Perhaps the conditions and attitudes of those times could not prevent that.

Today, however, we have the assistance of institutions like the Wycliffe Global Alliance (founded in 1942 and with a footprint in 60 countries), whose desire is to see the Bible translated for every language group that needs it.

One of its partner organisation, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) – has been situated at Ukarumpa near Kainantu in Eastern Highlands Province since 1956.

As of November 2012, translations of the Bible (66 Books), portions of it and the New Testament existed in more than 2,800 of the 6,877 languages on Earth.

In PNG, research has been conducted into nearly 400 languages and at this time there are 316 SIL members working on projects in 190 different language. Like my own Enga tokples Bible, the entire Bible has already been translated into the Orokaiva language.

I wonder how many local pastors are using this work to preach, teach and instruct the youngsters. The values, principles and nuances enshrined in the Bible are universal, irrespective of the emphasis that each culture and language group places on them.

Educated Papua New Guineans have a grandparent, an aunt or a cousin who speaks their traditional language. We can use these people as resources to reinforce important values, principles and history in traditional languages so we can preserve them.

I speak my own tokples at home and in other appropriate settings. Education and living away from the village did not diminish it or wipe it away from me. The same should be reflected in the lives of many of us who started school in our villages and towns.

The idea of tokples education in primary education and pre-schools has been given a 15-plus year chance. We have seen its results. Of course, how it has been prepared, funded and implemented in PNG is another story.

What is clear today is that, there has been a double blow to the self-esteem, confidence and thinking ability of our youngsters. The bulk of them who were educated in the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) experiment are not able to hold a coherent conversation or discussion in Pidgin, or even in English.

So the cultural and language pride we had hoped to usher in has been correctly labelled a failure. We cannot and must not afford to waste another decade in such misguided experiments.

One has to agree with Pope Benedict that, “the Internet is a gift from God”. Information is becoming available to the masses. We must make it our own business to educate ourselves – unlearn dogmas, prejudices and bigotry and begin to embrace the truly noble ideas and philosophies of respect. honesty and truth.

The diffusion of knowledge, ideas and skill-sets is happening now. We must not lament past sins and hold ourselves in bondage.

Some things need to go and must go. They need to be forgotten and left behind. Those who continue to peddle them must be exposed.

We can only do this through widely understood and communicable languages. The English language happens to be one of them. Mandarin, Hindu, Russian, French or Bahasa appear to have geographical limitations.

Globalization and business agendas will continue to play a leading role in driving people to become multi-linguists .

The schemes and tactics that have been engineered for wealth concentration and property ownership are now commonplace. They are taught in business and political science classes the world over.

We must take it upon ourselves to educate ourselves fully of such history and be bold and confident in how we exert our influence in the digital era.

Globalisation is a reality, however the plots, tactics, schemes, pacts and protocols crafted today follow the same paths as before.

Therefore, we must learn to take pride in our own strengths (small population, pristine environment, terrestrial and marine resources) to articulate and express ourselves confidently and intelligently in the global multicultural setting.

Let’s embrace the English language, teach our own children our own native languages (and not in classrooms) and learn a third language like Mandarin but quit eulogising dubious ideas like OBE and its many ills.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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