- Endangered Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal Languages: Essays on language documentation, archiving and revitalization
Most of the papers in this volume represent the output of a session on endangered languages and cultures held at the 6th Conference of the European Society for Oceanists in 2005. Senft's introduction to the book begins with a quote that reads as a call to arms: "When a people no longer dares to defend its language, it is ripe for slavery" (1). The papers in the volume, however, are not particularly political in their orientation, but rather span almost every major topic relating to language endangerment and documentation: the language-culture interface, archiving, technological advances, and field reports on particular projects and regions, as well as curriculum development. The one thread that holds the papers together is that they relate to Australian languages and the Austronesian of the Pacific. The only area that is most clearly lacking in the collection is issues of linguistic description and language change. Thus, for those expecting linguistic data, this volume will not offer as much as it will for those interested in any of the fields mentioned above. In the following, I give a brief summary of each chapter, with special attention paid to parts I and II. The book is divided into three parts with a total of 13 chapters (including Gunter Senft's introductory chapter).
Part I, "The documentation of endangered languages," contains four chapters. Darrell Tryon's brief chapter, "The endangered languages of Vanuatu," is a valuable reference, as it gives a list of all the known languages of Vanuatu with speaker number estimates and a short summary of the endangerment situation. Vanuatu has emerged as one of the areas in most urgent need of descriptive fieldwork, as it contains the highest language density anywhere on earth but suffers from large scale language attrition. Hopefully, this reference will succeed in leading students and others to help document the many undescribed languages of this country.
Gabriele Cablitz's paper, "A field report on a language documentation project on the Marquesas in French Polynesia," is a report on her DOBES-funded documentation project on the Marquesan language. She offers a good background on the language situation and its historical roots, including several surprising facts. For instance, we learn that the Marquesan education system is still completely French-medium and that until recently children who were caught speaking their maternal language during school hours were punished severely, as is unfortunately still the case in so many other parts of the world. Furthermore, the system of higher education follows the French model so closely that college students have exactly the same curriculum as their counterparts in France, having to read Baudelaire, Hugo, and Molière in the original. Both here and in other work, Cablitz reports that the home language of Marquesan families is increasingly [End Page 589] becoming French, even in rural areas. This, no doubt, is due to language policy and the fact that Marquesans are unable to advance economically in their society without being able to speak French.
An interesting thread that runs through both Cablitz's and Hoëm's papers on Polynesia (see below for a discussion of the latter) is interisland rivalry and its effect on language policies and attitudes. In the case of the Marquesas, there has developed a strong resentment toward the dominating position of Tahitian vis-à-vis the local language. The movement to promote the Marquesan language came about not as a direct reaction to French hegemony but rather as an answer to the imposition of the Tahitian language. The creation of "language academies" and the adoption of French prescriptive attitudes toward the role of such academies appears to have exacerbated linguistic, cultural, and social rifts. This is only touched upon briefiy in this volume, but it is an interesting topic that deserves more investigation.
Ingjerd Hoëm's paper, "Language endangerment: Situations of loss and gain," discusses...