Linguistic Ecology: Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Region

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

5

Case studies

The rape of Oceania began with Guam.

(Oliver 1951:234)


INTRODUCTION

Linguistics for many years has been a battlefield between generalizers seeking all-embracing explanations and others who have pointed to singularities that do not fit general theories. It is in the nature of a book such as the present one to favour the former approach. One reason why I regard the notion of a linguistic ecosystem as theoretically fruitful is that it has generated a number of promising research questions which non-ecological activity, which regards languages as self-contained entities, has not been able to ask. My work on the Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific Hemisphere (Wurm, Mühlhäusler and Tryon 1996) supports the view that there has been a very significant extent of interrelationship between the languages of the region. At the same time, a growing body of sociolinguistic and anthropological studies confirms the inter-relatedness between such communication networks and speakers’ cultural practices. It therefore seems reasonable to seek explanations in non-local causes and, in particular, in the massive change in interlinguistic relations over the last 200 years.

Kulick (1992), in commenting on some of my earlier writings (Mühlhäusler 1987a, 199la), takes the view that it might be more productive to concentrate on single languages, and carry out miscro-studies of local change.

While there are valid theoretical reasons for treating this entire area as a linguistic ecosystem, many of the generalizations made about the area…or about the reasons for language shift, are not well founded and are generated in the absence of detailed knowl-

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