A correspondent sent me a story by Jon Stokes from the New Zealand Herald about a project “for the development of a pan-Pacific language”:
[Maori Language] Commission chief executive Haami Piripi said the commission was in discussions with a number of Pacific nations including Hawaii, Rarotonga, Samoa and Niue to develop a language database that would be used to develop a common “Meta-Polynesian” language.
He said the initiative was required to halt the declining use of Polynesian languages driven by the dominance of the English language and high numbers of Pacific peoples settling in other parts of the world.
“There are networks of languages that share a common ancestry, from Fiji across to Tahiti, it is important to chronicle the changes to the language as it spread across the Pacific and to recognise the family of languages that exist.”
He said the end result would be a database that would assist in developing greater uniformity among the various languages, driven by a need to ensure Polynesian languages are maintained.
“There is a merge point, the point where the languages merge will get greater and greater until it becomes a language of its own.”…
However, the proposal has been met with scepticism by senior lecturer in Samoan studies at Victoria University Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin.
He said language and culture were intertwined and strong opposition would follow moves for change, especially from another culture.
“When we talk about language loss it is a very emotional issue. Language is about identity and pride and your culture if you have someone who comes along and says ‘hey let’s use this word’, you are going to have some very healthy debate aren’t you?”
Mr Hunkin applauded moves to compile a database and protect Pacific languages, but said initiatives to ensure the survival of a native tongue had to be driven from within the community and embraced by those at the grass-roots.
I’m afraid I agree with the skeptical Mr. Hunkin (and with Pita Sharples, who said “I support the attempt to proliferate the languages and to share, but Samoan is Samoan and Maori is Maori”), but the database is an excellent idea, and anything that promotes the study of threatened languages is OK with me.