Today on the ELAR blog, Darja Hoenigman shares an excerpt from her field diary from her work on Meakambut in Papua New Guinea. To learn more about this project, visit the ELAR archive here.
Through our discussions about language it became clear to me that the Meakambut take it for granted that their language will always be there. When I told them about cases when people in some parts of Papua New Guinea started replacing their language with Tok Pisin, and thus gradually losing it, the Meakambut thought it was unthinkable to be without one’s own language: “If you don’t have your own language, what will you do when there are people from other places around and you want to hide from them what you’re talking about?” said Yakalok. This remark reflects people’s intimate connection with their language, and is yet another confirmation of how in this northern part of Papua New Guinea even very small speech communities have cultural reasons for keeping their language different from the languages of their more numerous neighbours. The value placed on having a language incomprehensible to outsiders has perhaps played an important role in preserving the incredible linguistic diversity of New Guinea – up to just a few decades ago, when many town dwellers and some communities who have more contact with outside world started readily giving up their ancestral language for Tok Pisin.
Blog post by Darja Hoenigman