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Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea highlights local language and culture

(October 2012) The Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea (LSPNG) recently concluded its annual meeting, which was held at the Ukarumpa Training Centre, part of SIL’s campus in the country’s Eastern Highlands. The Society is an informal network of researchers, educators and others interested in the languages of PNG and language and culture issues such as literacy, education, ethnomusicology and oral literature.

LSPNG’s annual meeting promotes collaboration and research. The event provides a venue for scholarly presentations, as well as formal and informal opportunities for interaction between participants. Twenty-four papers were presented during this year’s three days of presentations, a selection of which will be published in the Society's online journal Language and Linguistics in Melanesia. Among those who presented research were several SIL PNG staff: Dr. René van den Berg, Dr. Phil King, Jens Meyer, Robert Petterson and Mavis Price.

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Attendees included scholars from various institutions from across the country, including the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, the University of PNG and the University of Goroka, with which SIL made a formal agreement for academic and professional cooperation in 2011.

Dr. Neil Coulter, SIL PNG Director for Language Services, commented: “A special highlight of the conference was the large number of presentations given by undergraduate students from the University of Goroka. It was excellent to see students enjoying studying their own languages, and to hear their concern for the futures of those languages.”

Dr. Phil King, Academic Training Coordinator for SIL PNG, echoed this enthusiasm for the student presentations: “The thing that shone through was the students’ commitment to, and passion for, their own languages. Some shared about the linguistic systems of their languages (many of which have scarcely been documented before), others shared about cultural forms (songs, poems, proverbs, or metaphors) that are dying out...Others spoke about their kinship system or how they are planning to strengthen the transmission of oral traditions in their community schools. In all of these presentations it was clear that the students valued their cultural heritage and were anxious to keep their language and identity from being overtaken by languages of wider communication.”

*The Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) is a new tool developed by the SIL team that oversees the Ethnologue. Building on the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale introduced by prominent linguist Joshua Fishman, EGIDS was designed to establish a language’s level of endangerment with greater accuracy. This new scale will be applied to languages in the 17th edition of the Ethnologue, which is scheduled for publication in early 2013.

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