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Language and ethnobiological skills decline precipitously in Papua New Guinea, the world's most linguistically diverse nation

journal contribution
posted on 25.10.2021, 05:23 by Alfred Kik, Martin Adamec, Alexandra AikhenvaldAlexandra Aikhenvald, Jarmila Bajzekova, Nigel Baro, Claire Bowern, Robert K Colwell, Pavel Drozd, Pavel Duda, Sentiko Ibalim, Leonardo R Jorge, Jane Mogina, Ben Ruli, Katerina Sam, Hannah Sarvasy, Simon Saulei, George D Weiblen, Jan Zrzavy, Vojtech Novotny
Papua New Guinea is home to >10% of the world's languages and rich and varied biocultural knowledge, but the future of this diversity remains unclear. We measured language skills of 6,190 students speaking 392 languages (5.5% of the global total) and modeled their future trends using individual-level variables characterizing family language use, socioeconomic conditions, students' skills, and language traits. This approach showed that only 58% of the students, compared to 91% of their parents, were fluent in indigenous languages, while the trends in key drivers of language skills (language use at home, proportion of mixed-language families, urbanization, students' traditional skills) predicted accelerating decline of fluency to an estimated 26% in the next generation of students. Ethnobiological knowledge declined in close parallel with language skills. Varied medicinal plant uses known to the students speaking indigenous languages are replaced by a few, mostly nonnative species for the students speaking English or Tok Pisin, the national lingua franca. Most (88%) students want to teach indigenous language to their children. While crucial for keeping languages alive, this intention faces powerful external pressures as key factors (education, cash economy, road networks, and urbanization) associated with language attrition are valued in contemporary society.

History

Volume

118

Issue

22

Start Page

1

End Page

8

Number of Pages

8

eISSN

1091-6490

ISSN

0027-8424

Location

United States

Publisher

National Academy of Sciences

Publisher License

CC BY

Additional Rights

CC BY 4.0

Language

eng

Peer Reviewed

Yes

Open Access

Yes

Acceptance Date

13/04/2021

External Author Affiliations

Western Sydney University; Jane Mogina Environment Consultants, PNG; University of Minnesota, University of Connecticut, Yale University, USA; University of Papua New Guinea; New Guinea Binatang Research Center; University of Ostrava, University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic;

Era Eligible

Yes

Medium

Print

Journal

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Article Number

e2100096118