Can endangered languages be saved if one dies every fourteen days? Quite honestly, I don’t have the faintest idea. But more knowledgeable people say, and I really believe them, that there are ways to preserve even the rarest of tongues. I know the cause is worth the fight. And I know that if we all put our shoulders to the wheel, we will succeed.
It is not a secret that a language needs speakers to survive. It sounds obvious, but it’s not necessarily that simple. Because how exactly does a small language gain speakers? I often hear people say: “I don’t speak an endangered tongue, and I don’t know anyone who does. So what can I do?” Well, you can do a lot.
First and foremost, start caring. It doesn’t matter if you are a Pacific Islander or not, notice the Pacific tongues. Acknowledge that they exist. Get interested in them. They are not as far away from you as you might think. You may be convinced that those languages are used only by indigenous people living on some tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And that’s true, but not entirely. Let me explain.
Do you perhaps live around Springdale, Arkansas? Yes? Then there is a chance you have Marshallese neighbours. Or maybe you live in Wellington, New Zealand? You may have a friend who is Tokelauan. And if you are located in Hawaii, Auckland, Queensland, or New South Wales, I’m quite certain you know at least one person who is of Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian descent. These are just a few examples to show you that Pacific Islanders don’t live at the end of the world. They are everywhere: from Australia, to the USA, to France and the United Kingdom. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to be more attentive to their native tongues.
In fact, you may even take a step further and start learning one of the languages. There are many advantages to it for both the Pacific Islanders and foreigners. You will benefit greatly while doing something extremely significant for the world. You may not be aware of this, but by learning a lesser-known tongue you are contributing to preserving somebody’s culture and heritage. You are helping to safeguard their ways of being, their national identity, and – in many cases – their future.
It is also worth remembering that the more languages we have in the world, the more colourful the world is. Languages are the taste and the spice in our melting pot. Without linguistic diversity, planet Earth would be completely bland and tasteless. It would be like a Spam Musubi… without the spam.
Now, although I encourage everyone to learn Pacific tongues, I think this should be especially important for Pacific Islanders. When you have the knowledge of your ancestors’ language, you can pass it down to your children, who can then pass it down to their children and so on. This is the only way to ensure the continuity of not only the language but also culture. So if you are a Pacific Islander, please cherish your mother tongue. Make sure your little ones know and use it on a daily basis. English and French are important, but so are Marshallese, Kiribati, Tongan, Tokelauan, Kosraean, or Sonsorol.
Of course, you may not be keen on learning any of the Pacific languages. And that’s fine. But you can still help save them. If you have the chance, find people who speak those tongues and record them. Yes, record them. Record them speaking, singing, joking, telling stories, having conversations with their friends. All you need is a phone or some other recording device. It’s that easy.
I can imagine you are quite surprised right now. Record people talking… What??? Well, in order to preserve a language, we need to preserve its sounds, which are ephemeral and last only as long as the tongue is spoken. Written texts, also essential in language conservation, cannot convey pronunciation. It’s impossible to accurately describe the phonology of any language. So if we don’t hurry to document the spoken word, some tongues will soon be gone forever.
I am realistic and I know that a lot of Pacific languages won’t get saved. But we can try to preserve at least some of them. It’s up to us to keep those wonderful tongues alive. We should do our utmost. Because Oceanic languages matter. Because Pacific Islands matter.