Much of a person’s unique cultural identity is tied up in their language
Papua New Guinea has over 820 languages making it home to almost 12% of the world’s languages. However, some of these languages are dying at an alarming rate. These languages range from a few speakers or one village to the language of Enga with 230,000 speakers and a dozen dialects.
The languages face extinction from a range of issues including a different language of education (English), small populations, intermarriage, and the need to communicate outside their language (Melanesian Pidgin). However, much of a person’s unique cultural identity is tied up in their language. When that language is exchanged for a different language, they are also exchanging their identity. This could be one reason my ancestors hung onto their language for 150 years after they moved to the USA.
As these languages die, there is a great feeling of loss and a desire to somehow revive or preserve their language and cultural heritage. Where the languages are still vibrant, there is a pride in others seeing what their language and culture have to offer. One of the things we would like to do is to help document some of these languages and culture.
Recently I was visited by Ryan Steiner who watches birds for a living. (You can do that? Cool!) I arranged a trip to the village of Yabim about 2 hours away by road. Yabim is part of the Juwar language, and we have started working with this language through Oral Bible Storytelling. When the village heard we were coming, they were overjoyed and wanted us to start recording their language and culture. They took Ryan and my son Nathanael on a tour of the village and jungle so they could see some birds as well as arranged a singsing (traditional dance) for us to document. We hope to start documenting languages in earnest next year as part of a plan of progressive language development as well as a way to meet some needs of the language communities.