Saturday, November 26, 2011

Preserving the 800 national languages of Papua New Guinea


Government, leaders, and citizens boast of the 800 plus indigenous languages of Papua New Guinea.
Many claim that the languages are invaluable national treasures and pride of the country, but only a few realise that a lot needs to be done to maintain the value of these ancient treasures. There is a great need to invest in the development and preservation of the languages.
The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) based at Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands, is one organisation which strongly believes that the indigenous languages of PNG are national treasures and powerful tools for empowering the people for better life; and has been proactively engaged in language preservation and utilisation since 1956.
Through its Bible Translation Program, SIL is directly preserving these national treasures by establishing linguistic infrastructure for the country.
 According to SIL Director, Tim Lithgow, SIL has developed alphabets, dictionaries, literacy materials, and translated the bible into 191 PNG indigenous languages to date.   
SIL is working in another 200 languages, determined to deliver these same valuable outputs in vernacular language development.
SIL delivers these linguistic outputs in print, audio and audiovisual formats.
Specifically, some vernacular Bibles are recorded in audio devices including proclaimer, megavoice, and saber.
It also records music of each language group for future generation to learn and use.
Similarly, the video capturing the enactment of the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in Luke is dubbed into indigeneous languages of PNG.  
 Many vernacular scriptures are also available on the internet at a PNG Bible Translation Association (PNGBTA) sponsored website
Since Government facilities are limited for the development and preservation of the languages, communities seek to engage with SIL.
 Mr Lithgow mentioned that SIL believes in the potential of PNG, and feels compelled to engage with linguistic groups when it is approached by communities who are concerned about the survival of their language, and would like to understand the Bible better in their own spoken language.
 The translation of the Bible is no easy task.
 It takes many years of commitment and hard work.
SIL missionaries leave the comfort in their home countries and sacrifice over half of their lives on assignments to develop the language, translate the Bible into the language and teach the local communities to read and live by its principles.
 One such devoted and passionate missionary couple are Bob and Salme Bugenhagen who completed simultaneous translation work on the Tuam and Oov dialects of the Saveeng language on Siassi Islands last week Saturday.
Bob Bugenhagen said: “When we exit the village, we will leave behind language infrastructure including alphabets, dictionaries, literacy program and training tools, and most importantly the Bible –the word of God that has the potential to transform individuals and communities.”
Mr Bugenhagen added that technical skills and expertise have also been transferred to local translators and literacy counterparts for future work in the language group.
Martin Narol, a local translator who worked with SIL linguists to develop the Tuam dialect confirmed: “Mi kisim skul na save pinis long tanim ol toktok long Inglis or Tokpisin igo long Tokples Tuam. Mi ken helpim gavman long tanim stori blong sik HIV AIDS or Binis long inglis igo long Tokples,”
The language development and translation work has its costs, and involves substantial resources including funds, materials, and labour. The SIL main centre at Ukarumpa coordinates the support services which includes Aviation, Communication & Technology, and Material and Technical Support to translation teams.
Hence, the undertaking by SIL to contribute toward preserving the languages of PNG is a great task which requires adequate support.
This includes supporting the local translators who are involved in the translation and literacy program on a fulltime basis.
Government, leaders, and citizens ought to contribute towards the efforts of SIL to preserve the 800 plus indigenous languages of Papua New Guinea, the renowned treasures of the country.

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