Accepted Paper:

Preserving language or empowering people: the Kulu Language Institute of Ranongga  
Debra McDougall (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

More than one thousand residents of Ranongga (Solomon Islands) have invested energy and money into studying their own languages. Few participants are primarily motivated by a desire to preserve language or culture. Empowerment, not preservation, seems to be what this movement promises.

Paper long abstract:

In regions with small languages, linguistic work is often undertaken to preserve or revitalise languages. Often, the focus is more on the languages and less on the lives of the people who speak them. This paper focuses on a grassroots language movement of the island of Ranongga in Western province of Solomon Islands: the Kulu Language Institute. This movement began twenty years ago and has grown exponentially in the past five years. Today, around 20% of Ranongga's population has taken Kulu classes. This talk draws on Kulu Institute materials and interviews with participants to understand why so many people have invested time, energy, and money into studying their own language. In contrast to vernacular language initiatives driven by national governments or linguistic experts, the Kulu curriculum is aimed at adults. The mono-lingual materials comprise more than a thousand pages of grammatical analysis, exercises, and reflections. The linguistic terminology and the texts expand the meaning of ordinary language. Some participants are fascinated by the idea that their own language has an underlying structure. Others feel that the instruction helps them understand the Bible, speak confidently in crowds, or achieve good scores on English exams. Surprisingly, though, no one interviewed was primarily motivated by a desire to preserve language or culture. Empowerment, not preservation, seems to be what this movement promises, and that helps to explain why it has experienced such remarkable growth.

Panel P33
Language movements: endangerment, revitalisation, and social transformation