The United Nations’ declaration of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) raises a critical issue: Indigenous languages are in an endangered state. The UN’s declaration is hoped to spur preservation and promotion of them and curb the tide of extinction.
Papua New Guinea holds more Indigenous languages than anywhere else in the world. Current estimates of its living languages are between 830 to over 850, but that number is in steady decline as Papua New Guinea’s communities become more mobile and interconnected. Yet, while extinction to local languages remains a severe problem in Papua New Guinea, in 2020, a new language was added to its list – and there’s potential for more.
Jessica Collins, the Lowy Institute’s Research Fellow for the Aus-PNG Network and Pacific Islands Program, talks with four experts about language, diversity, and cultural identity in Papua New Guinea. The panel includes Dr Kilala Devette-Chee, Senior Research Fellow and Program Leader of the Education Research Program at the Papua New Guinea National Research Institute; Dr Sakarepe Kamene, Head of Linguistics and Modern Languages at the University of Papua New Guinea; Adjunct Professor Craig Volker, of The Cairns Institute, James Cook University; and Dr. Lidia Federica Mazzitelli, post-doctoral researcher at the Slavic Institute, University of Cologne and scientific consultant at the Australian National University.