From Far Outliers, a news report on the establishment of a Kanak language academy:

NOUMEA, February 27 (Oceania Flash) – New Caledonia’s government has officially appointed late last week its Vice-President, Déwé Gorodey, to the position of Chairman of the newly-created indigenous Kanak language academy.
The cabinet decision follows the inception, late January, by New Caledonia’s legislative assembly, the Congress, of the French territory’s first indigenous Kanak languages Academy.
The main aim of the Kanak languages Academy is to preserve New Caledonia’s rich cultural indigenous heritage of up to 40 indigenous known languages and dialects…

It’s nice to see such recognition for indigenous languages, though I hope the Academy doesn’t emulate the French version.


  1. I’ve only just finished reading Rushdie’s Midnight Children, and amongst other things, I’ve been telling people that Malayalam is the only language in the world that is palindromic, basically because Rushdie said so in the book.
    Now I feel decidedly dirty upon learning that there exists a language called Kanak that puts paid to my disinforming practices in relation to Malayalam.
    Nevertheless, I am decidedly happy to say that an internet source is taking precendence over another of the hard-copy and bounded variety.
    Long live text and trivia across all mediums!

  2. Just another proof that novelists are born liars!

  3. Siganus Sutor says

    Or that liars could be — or are — novelists, no?
    [Uh, Steve, it seems as if some sort of show/party has started on LH. I can hear all the charivari but I haven’t been able to find the entrance to the room. You really miss some nice hostesses here.]

  4. Damn, that’s impressive! How’d you do that?

  5. Kanak is not a single language. It’s a collective name (ultimately from Hawaiian) for all the indigenous people of New Caledonia. How that name was adopted for that purpose is an interesting story that I linked to in my post. Note the (inconsistent) usage “Kanak languages Academy” in the news report.

  6. Ethnologue has a flat file listing all the synonyms and their corresponding code available for downloading. I just threw together a program to find palindromes and reformat such lines into HTML links.

  7. Rushdie’s indoeurocentric, Malayalamacentric ears must be burning!

  8. But wait! I have humiliated myself! Malayalam is Dravidian! And I am Dravidiocentric! Woe!

  9. But since indoeuro is dravid, all is well!

  10. marie-lucie says

    “X is the only language that …”
    If people knew there were more than 6000 languages identified in the world, they might be less inclined to make statements like the above, but most people generalize from their naturally limited experience, even if they know two or more languages.
    About the lack of the verb “to be”, it is true that LOTS of languages don’t have a “copula”, that is a verb that has basically no meaning except to join two parts of a sentence together, as in “i am a teacher”, so that it can easily be dispensed with, as for instance in the Kreol examples earlier. But does that mean that you could not express the same idea as “Je pense donc je suis” in a different manner? here “je suis” means basically “i exist”. In many languages it is possible to affirm existence without the equivalent of “to be”, often by using a verb of position equivalent to “sit”, “stand”, “lie”, etc depending on the context, or a verb of even vaguer meaning. Similarly, many languages don’t have a verb meaning “to have”, but they can still express the type of relationship implied by that word, eg instead of a literal translation of “i have a house” or “i have a brother” they can say something like “my house stands” and “my brother exists”. It is always dangerous to state that such-and-such can’t be said in language X – not in so many words, perhaps, but (excluding puns, rhyming and the like) there usually is a way.

  11. marie-lucie says

    p.s. about “to be”, I must have got confused with another post which dealt with that problem and quoted kreol examples.

  12. The Head Heeb has a characteristically thorough analysis of the political context and ramifications of the Kanak Academy.

  13. Siganus Sutor says

    May God — given all His editing powers — copy Marie-Lucie’s comment into the mad and loony thread where it ought to be displayed. Maybe it’ll bring back some common sense there.
    [— Er, Steve, when you think that enough is enough, you can say “All right, kids, you’ve been having fun? Good, but now it’s time you stopped yapping around and seriously thought about going back to the classroom.” —]
    Incidentally, and totally beside the point, I have a not-so-distant forebear who was born on Kanak land. I wonder if it makes me prone to this disease known as acted comicoproficiency palindrome. But thanks to Joël I’ve learned the origin of the name and its generic nature. I wonder what would happen if today some people, from the Pacific region or elsewhere, started to use the word Kanak to talk about other people or about themselves. After all, when you look at what it means, couldn’t various native populations claim to be called “Kanaks” or “Kanakas”? (including craters* maybe…)
    * an African or Madagascan name, by the way (I’ll have to check)

  14. when you think that enough is enough
    Ne-vers! A say is jam(eh?) enough!

  15. That’s Jor-el to you, Sig!
    Many Native Hawaiians call themselves Kanaka Maoli ‘people original’, but that might be a more recent calque on Tangata Maori. It’s not a very useful term except vis-à-vis foreigners (the original meaning of haole in Hawaiian).
    BTW, there’s a comparable term in the Philippines for indigenous “bush” languages (in the “boondocks”, q.v.): Agta, Arta, Alta, Ayta, Atta. But I think it’ll be a long wait until we see an Agta Languages Academy!

  16. Siganus Sutor says

    > Joel    (er, sorry for the trema)
    I haven’t been able to find out, yet, whether our crater’s name is of African or Madagascan origin. The latter looks more likely however. Given that Madagascan languages are far-western Malayo-Polynesian outliers, we can wonder whether the word itself didn’t travel from the rim of the Pacific…
    Regarding Maoris (or ‘Maolis’ as it may apparently be), it is always amusing to see that most dictionaries use the word only with respect to the Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand. Some time ago, while reading Le Paradis — un peu plus loin, a French translation of the double biography written by Mario Vargas Llosa about Gauguin and his grandmother, I was reminded that Tahitians or Marquesans (?) too were sometimes called “Maoris”. I had never bothered to investigate how (lazy thing…). But how is it that lexicographers have apparently not taken that into account?

  17. Sig,
    Pukui and Elbert’s Hawaiian Dictionary defines maoli as: Native, indigenous, aborigine, genuine, true, real, actual; very, really, truly. The ‘indigenous’ usage dates back at least to the 1852 Hawaiian legislature, but the word itself goes back to Proto-Polynesian *ma(a)‘oli, so Tahitian and Marquesan would have had the same term, especially since Hawaiians first arrived from the Marquesas, then from Tahiti. Kahiki Nui ‘Big Tahiti’ is the name of a district on the southeast side of Maui.

  18. Siganus Sutor says

    > Joel
    Having met neither Pukui nor Elbert, I can’t say much about their dictionary. However, what you write about maoli/maori looks interesting when compared to the wandering tangata/kanaka/kanak (‘human, person’).
    You said that “Tahitian and Marquesan would have had the same term [maoli], especially since Hawaiians first arrived from the Marquesas, then from Tahiti.” Fair enough, but then why do general-purpose dictionaries like the SOED, le Petit Robert, Larousse or the New Penguin English Dictionary all use the word just for “a member of the Polynesian aboriginal people of New Zealand”? I’ve had a look in Vargas Llosa’s book. In one passage, for instance, Gauguin seems to think that he’s become one of them (i.e. a Tahitian): “Koké [Gauguin] avait prouvé qu’il en était digne, Koké était déjà devenu un Maori.” (p. 187)
    In another passage, he is comparing the body of a vahiné with those shown in classical European painting: “Ce merveilleux corps à la peau mate (…) n’était ni européen, ni occidental, ni français. Il était tahitien. Il était maori.” (p. 221)
    I don’t know for sure if you have other people than Vargas Llosa who use the word Maori to speak of Polynesians that are not from New Zealand, but if my memory serves me right I think I have seen other writers (or journalists?) do it as well. If authors who are not specialists of the Polynesian world and who do not write for such specialists use the word thus — i.e. in a manner aimed at the general public —, how can it be that it is ignored by the abovementioned dictionaries?

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