Preserving language, new and old


It is estimated that within the next 200 years, around half of the 6000 languages currently spoken around the world today will become extinct. One linguist in America is trying to preserve or rather revive an extinct language of Papua New Guinea, Arapesh, by using a much more modern method of communication – Facebook.

Lise Dobrin worked in Papua New Guinea almost 15 years ago, cataloguing the language’s nuances by recording conversations between villagers as they discussed their day to day lives. Lise created a digital archive of the Arapesh language, resulting in an Arapesh language book! But with its complicated colonial history, Papua New Guinea’s smaller and older languages have effectively died out as Tok Pisin took over as their everday language, and English began to be taught in schools.

But when some urban Arapesh people who knew each other on Facebook read about Lise’s digital archive on the internet, they got in touch with her, asking to learn more about their heritage, which is something of a shadow to them. It’s certainly a strange thought to not know your own native language…

Lise’s task now is to bring together more Arapesh people and find a way to teach them their linguistic heritage and revive the ancient Arapesh language.

It’s a really interesting concept that I think could be worked really well into a class of teenagers or younger adults. Their language specifically is so colloquial and involves language that may not be classified as a part of their language proper. So how can you get them to engage with this in an informative and educative way?

Why not ask them to come up with a list of slang words that they use that may not make it into official dictionaries? This will get them thinking about the language they use, its origins, and why it might not last. They could start a Facebook group to create a digital time capsule! Or you could use this topic simply as a debate: as students learning English as a foreign language, can they imagine ever forgetting their own native language like the Arapesh did?





Leave a Comment