Restoring Biocultural Diversity: The Road to Language Health?

By Marit Vamarasi.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Ranka Bjeljac-Babic, in a 2000 article published in “UNESCO’s The Courier,” noting that a 1992 Rio Earth Summit had attacked the problem of the world’s shrinking biodiversity, proceeded to call for a “Rio summit to tackle languages.” The Fourth Annual Global Studies Conference could provide that opportunity. “There is an inextricable link between cultural and biological diversity,” proclaimed the International Society of Ethnobiology in the 1988 Declaration of Belém. The Terralingua organization has been instrumental in studying, and raising awareness of, biocultural diversity. It has developed an Index of Biocultural Diversity, an Index of Linguistic Diversity, and a Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge. Data from these indicators can be used to determine the health of any biocultural community, such as that of the island of Rotuma in the South Pacific. Once known as “the garden of the Pacific” for its lush vegetation and heavy rainfall, and as a favorite stopping place for early whaling expeditions, it is now experiencing deterioration of its coral reef; knowledge of the art of shipbuilding was lost years ago, and now the ability to fish inside and outside the reef appears to be about to meet the same end. At the same time, people are leaving the island in large numbers and relocating to communities in mostly English-speaking nations of the Pacific and the Americas. Both the reef and the language/culture of Rotuma are being revitalized in efforts to restore 19th century diversity to this island paradise. These links between the different types of diversity will be explored further in this article, with case studies demonstrating ongoing revitalization projects.

Keywords: Diversity, Languages, Cultures, South Pacific

Global Studies Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.59-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 893.412KB).

Dr. Marit Vamarasi

Professor, TESL/TEFL Department, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, USA

Marit Vamarasi holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of North Dakota and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Cornell University. She worked with the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Irian Jaya, Indonesia for several years. She has taught at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and, since 1990, at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. Her research interests include teaching and learning vocabulary, the teaching and learning of endangered languages, and the Rotuman language. She has written a grammar of Rotuman, published by Lincom Europa, and has developed a Rotuman language learning website for overseas learners. She has also published in Pacific Linguistics and The International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

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