Matt of No-sword has a (cleverly titled) post about some linguistic descriptions he noticed in Margaret Mead’s Coming of age in Samoa; first he points out that when she says the “immaturity” in use of language of a group of girls between ten and twenty years old “was chiefly evidenced by a lack of familiarity with the courtesy language, and by much confusion in the use of the dual and of the inclusive and exclusive pronouns,” what she observed may have been “just conflict between actual spoken Samoan versus some idealized form of the language that she had been taught was correct” — a very acute point. Then he quotes this footnote:
The children of this age already show a very curious example of a phonetic self-consciousness in which they are almost as acute and discriminating as their elders. When the missionaries reduced the language to writing, there was no k in the language, the k positions in other Polynesian dialects being filled in Samoan either with a t or a glottal stop. Soon after the printing of the Bible, and the standardisation of Samoan spelling, greater contact with Tonga introduced the k into the spoken language of Savai’i and Upolu, displacing the t but not replacing the glottal stop. Slowly this intrusive usage spread eastward over Samoa, the missionaries who controlled the schools and the printing press fighting a dogged and losing battle with the less musical k. To-day the t is the sound used in the speech of the educated and in the church, still conventionally retained in all spelling and used in speeches and on occasions demanding formality. The Manu’a children who had never been to the missionary boarding schools, used the k entirely. But they had heard the t in church and at school and were sufficiently conscious of the difference to rebuke me immediately if I slipped into the colloquial k which was their only speech habit, uttering the t sound for perhaps the first time in their lives to illustrate the correct pronunciation from which I, who was ostensibly learning to speak correctly, must not deviate. Such an ability to disassociate the sound used from the sound heard is remarkable in such very young children and indeed remarkable in any person who is not linguistically sophisticated.
Matt says, “I love this. Even in Mead’s tropical idyll, there are peevers.” I would also point out the absurdity of Mead’s “less musical k,” which she seems to take as a self-evident description.