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

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

6

Mission languages and language policies

It is probable that some corruption of a native language is inevitable in Mission work.

(Codrington and Palmer 1896:VIII)


INTRODUCTION

To do justice to the complex issue of mission and language in a single chapter is almost impossible; impossible because of the enormous and often conflicting information, impossible because of the large number of different practices and time periods, and finally, impossible because of the ideologically charged and emotional nature of the topic. 1 Mission intrusion into the linguistic ecology of the Pacific is perhaps best characterized as an ‘invisible hand’ phenomenon of the type discussed by Keller (1990). Mission decisions regarding language matters tended to be ad hoc and local, aimed at achieving local goals such as facilitating preaching, education of the ‘natives’ or preparing Bible translations. Many of them were also shortlived. Of the 107 missions set up for Aboriginal people in Australia, for instance, most ‘lasted less than ten years’ (Fesl 1993:76). It is true that from the outset the various Christian missions operating in Australia and the Pacific, and indeed elsewhere, were working towards the final goal of Christianizing the entire population. However, for most of the time there was little informed opinion on the part of the missions as to the role which language might play in this process. It is for this reason that one is justified regarding many of the dramatic consequences of mission language practices as unintended and uncontrolled. 2 It is only since the 1980s that missions have become involved in a more controlled use of language, aided by programmes in linguistics and computer technology.

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