Language vitality and the 'ten-year gap' in Indonesian Papua

Arnold, L. (Assessor)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua are among the most linguistically diverse regions on the planet: 240 languages belonging to some 30 distinct language families are spoken here, as well as a further 18 linguistic isolates. Recent decades, however, have seen this diversity increasingly threatened, as speakers shift to Malay/Indonesian, the contemporary varieties of prestige and power.

In this talk, I will present the results of a recent and comprehensive overview of language vitality in Indonesian Papua. This survey shows that nearly 70% of these languages are likely to be endangered to some degree, and that at least 10.5% are down to their last few speakers. I will supplement this discussion with case studies from the Ambel, Warembori, and Miere communities. These case studies will illustrate what I refer to as the ‘ten-year gap’: an extremely rapid shift from the local language to Malay/Indonesian, such that the generational gap between those who are fully fluent in the local language, and those who are entirely monolingual in Malay/Indonesian, may be as little as ten years. These rapid shifts appear to primarily be caused by improvements in transportation links, in that once a community becomes more accessible, Malay/Indonesian very quickly takes hold.
Period22 Feb 2021
Held atUniversity of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational