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

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

12

Preserving linguistic diversity: outlook and prospects

The real question for modern life and reversing language shift is …how one can build a home that one can still call one’s own and, by cultivating it, find community, comfort, companionship and meaning in a world whose mainstreams are increasingly unable to provide the basic ingredients for their own members.

(Fishman 1989:16)


INTRODUCTION

This book has addressed questions concerning the rapid decline of linguistic diversity in the Pacific area, and has brought together a rather amorphous body of evidence, much of it quite depressing. We have established that the principal reason for this mass loss of diversity was European colonization, whose agents set in motion a number of processes that have changed the region almost beyond recognition. We have tried to refrain from putting too much emphasis on motifs such as exploitation, selfishness, intolerance and ill will, though all of these were present. Much more importantly, in our opinion, is the sheer ignorance with which the newcomers approached the area and the numerous instances where good intention had unexpected and unwanted long-term effects.

Ignorance of the linguistic situation of the area has been profound and continues to be so. In many areas of life (economic, political, educational and linguistic) expatriate problems and solutions have been imported, distorting local reality and leading to rather costly patch-up jobs when things go wrong. Just as the population and environmental crises have begun to force radical rethinking, the growing realization that there is a cultural and linguistic crisis of equal proportion will no doubt necessitate similar readjustments in this area.

Language planning until the 1980s was based on the premise

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