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

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

11

Assessing the damage: structural and lexical effects

Only through massive effort can linguistic groups keep themselves distinct from neighbouring groups, and only by emphasising their uniqueness can they slow down the loss of traditional knowledge and retain a degree of respect for older generations while they acquire, piecemeal, the knowledge of foreigners that is integrating them into the global community.

(Thurston 1992:136)


INTRODUCTION

One of the recurrent themes of this book has been that the very notion of separate languages is an imported one and that the process which has led to the emergence of Pacific and Australian ‘languages’ has at the same time accelerated their decline. We can appeal to an ecological metaphor and liken the selective breeding of languages to that of a small number of indigenous biological species. Such breeding not only requires a very considerable effort if the chosen species is to survive over longer periods of time, but also results in new varieties that are dependent on factors other than those encountered in the traditional ecology.

The term ‘natural language’ consequently is quite inappropriate as a description of languages such as Fijian, Chamorro or Kâte. We have also seen that the naming of languages in many cases is a very recent phenomenon, introduced by Europeans over the last 100 years or so. It is often not remembered that the existence of a name over time is not a guarantee of structural identity over time. What is called Fijian in the 1990s significantly differs from Fijian 100 years ago as much and more than present-day Common Market Golden Delicious apples differ from apple varieties current 100 years ago.

This chapter is not so much concerned with the ecological changes that have led to these developments but with some of the lexical and

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