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March 26, 2007 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Pacific languages dying

Some extinct within 10 years?

Several Pacific Island languages could become extinct within 10 years, according to recently released census figures.

According to Human Rights Commission race-relations commissioner Joris de Bres, statistics from the 2006 census show that only 24% of Niueans, 17% of Cook Islanders, 58% of Tongans and 65% of Samoans living in New Zealand were able to speak their native languages.

All languages but Tongan have suffered a decrease in the number of speakers since the 2001 census, some by as much as 5%.

“When you look at the total number of [Pacific Islanders] living in New Zealand and their home islands… this is particularly worrying,” says de Bres.

Currently, 91% of Niueans, 73% of Cook Islanders, 44% of Tongans and 74% of Samoans live in New Zealand. This means that for every Niuean living in Niue, there are 11 living in New Zealand. “[Therefore] these languages are at risk not only in New Zealand but in the world,” says de Bres.

Vic offers a Pacific Studies major but Samoan is the only Pacific Island language available at degree level.

Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, Director of Pacific Studies, says that while there is some difficulty in finding resources and lecturers, the main issue with introducing other Pacific Island languages is the lack of sufficient demand for the subject.

“We tried to offer the Cook Island language five years ago but it came to nothing because of numbers,” she says.

There are approximately 50 students enrolled in first semester Samoan courses at Vic, with the majority at 100-level, and 85% of these students are Samoan migrants. Fairbairn-Dunlop adds that she has received expressions of interest for extramural courses from areas as far afield as Napier.

In last year’s budget, the government allocated $600,000 to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs for the preservation of Pacific Island languages. Additionally, since 2004, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs has initiated the Mind Your Language Project for Niuean, Cook Island Maori and Tokelauan languages, and the Human Rights Commission recently suggested a Pacific Languages Week and the conception of a Pacific Languages Commission.


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