Priorities for linguistic research in the Pacific (workshop report)

by Dr Rachel Hendery, Linguistics ANU.

[NB: Rachel’s map is interactive and provides information on the research priorities for these various language communities. We have included it here to suggest just one of the many ways Google Maps may facilitate workshops, discussion, etc. in area-studies research.]

On 27-28 October, a workshop Continuity and Change: Grammars of the Pacific was held at ANU. Around 30 people attended, including visitors from the University of Auckland, the University of Newcastle, the University of New England, and the University of Canberra. Keynote talks were given by Prof. Jeff Siegel (UNE) on “Language transfer and grammatical change: Evidence from Pacific contact varieties” and by Assoc. Prof. Frank Lichtenberk (University of Auckland) on “Complementation in Oceanic: Focus on complementisers”.

One of the highlights of the workshop was a discussion on regional priorities for future linguistic research in the Pacific. Participants were asked to report on the most urgent or important research questions in the region they work in, and to consider for example, if approached by a new PhD student who wanted to work in that region, what sorts of projects they might suggest. This discussion led to a very useful list of priorities, in which we can clearly see the differences between the current research status of various regions, as well as some similar themes in current and future interests across the Pacific. The points brought up at this discussion are summarised by region below:

Polynesia

  • New Māori (large media corpus now available) (Andy Pawley)
  • Accusative/ergative question across the region. (Andy Pawley)
  • Some languages are still less well documented. (Andy Pawley)
  • Different “respect levels” in Samoan (seeds of change). Formal/informal language use differs across generations. (Andy Pawley)
  • Comparison between “New Māori” and Hawaiian – in both cases contact with English (and/or near-death and revival) may have led to similar processes of change. (Jeff Siegel)

Melanesia in general

  • Lexicography (Malcolm Ross)
  • Generational studies: we need mid-career linguists who know the language and community well to to ongoing diachronic study. (General agreement that this would be great across the board, not just PNG). (Malcolm Ross)
  • Santa Isabel languages. (Malcolm Ross)
  • Bilingualism in Melanesia (including across the generations). (Malcolm Ross)
  • Bougainville, Oceanic languages, Papuan languages all still need more documentation and description (Bill Palmer)
  • Admiralties (40 or so languages) (Bill Palmer)
  • Yap. (Bill Palmer)
  • The way Oceanic fits into the Austronesian structure (Bill Palmer)
  • Relationship between verbs and objects (and what constitutes an object), incl phrasal incorporation. (Bill Palmer)

Island PNG, Western Solomons

  • Bougainville, Oceanic languages, Papuan languages all still need more documentation and description (Bill Palmer)
  • Admiralties (40 or so languages) (Bill Palmer)
  • Yap. (Bill Palmer)
  • The way Oceanic fits into the Austronesian structure (Bill Palmer)
  • Relationship between verbs and objects (and what constitutes an object), incl phrasal incorporation. (Bill Palmer)

The Solomons, Bougainville

  • Contact – there have been case studies but we need to understand what happens synchronically from a sociolinguistic perspective.  (Beth Evans)
  • Generational studies (agree with Malcolm). (Beth Evans)
  • “Dualingualism” in Tok Pisin and traditional languages. (Beth Evans)
  • Training people in the community. (Deb Hill)

South-East Solomons

  • detailed descriptive work on South East Solomonic languages (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • W/O (mainly SVO but some V-initial) (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • sentential complementation (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • negation (different in all the languages closely looked at) (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • verb phrase (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • serial verb constructions (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • Language contact: Santa Isabel – Sth East Solomonic and Western Oceanic languages (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • also different branches of South East Solomonic (Frank Lichtenberk)
  • also contact between Austronesian and non-Austronesian languages right next to each other. (Frank Lichtenberk)

Temotu

  • Document Utupua – will help with figuring out subgrouping. (Åshild Næss)
  • Compare to languages in the Bismarck region. What parallels still remain? (Åshild Næss)
  • Apply Alex Francois’s idea of the lexicon being influenced by emblemicity of language so that the three subgroups can be looked at from this perspective. (Åshild Næss

Australia

  • Problem of older people being seen as custodians of language so it’s difficult to get the opportunity to work with younger ones. (Felicity Meakins)
  • work on code-switching, including with contact varieties. (Felicity Meakins)
  • readdressing old questions about traditional languages from the  perspective of contact. (Felicity Meakins)
  • We need a really good grammar of at least one creole from someone with a strong typological background. (Felicity Meakins)
  • Comparison of other creoles before deciding on what the substrate was for contact languages (i.e. a better understanding of creole diffusion). (Felicity Meakins)
  • Connection to the rest of the world, including Torres Strait. (Felicity Meakins)
  • More consistent work with multilingual individuals. (Felicity Meakins)
  • Chase up older studies from 30 years or more ago and see what speakers in those communities are doing today. E.g. Dyirbal (Annette Schmidt’s work). (Felicity Meakins)

General issues

  • A list of questions to ask about various languages (so that when supervising a student outside your own region of expertise, you can give them a heads-up on possible important issues/debates/etc. It was pointed out that the danger of this is that the person using this list then might be primed to see things that aren’t there, or see them from a perspective that is not ideal, or miss things that they are expecting not to find.  (Jeff Siegel)
  • Better training of students at undergrad level in syntax, information theory, etc. (Bill Palmer)
  • There was also a discussion of the practical issues involved in working in the different regions and how that determines what gets done where.  (Bill Palmer)
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2 Responses to Priorities for linguistic research in the Pacific (workshop report)

  1. Bhagirati Bhan says:

    i have completed my postgrad in Linguistics and wish to do my masters research in linguistics but i am not very sure of topics…so would like to request for assistance in what sort of topics shall i work on which can be of more relevance to Fiji.

  2. I visited Philippines 5 months ago and i noticed that they have different dialects in every place. i cant imagine a small country with such a huge number of dialects exist. even filipinos don’t understand each other dialects. but they have their main dialect which is tagalog.

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