Partnerships arise from Oceania conference
Future workshops and collaborative projects are being discussed between Australian and French Pacific linguistics, following an inspiring week-long symposium at the University of New Caledonia, attended by five members of CoEDL: Director Nick Evans (ANU), Chief Investigators Nick Thieberger and Janet Fletcher (The University of Melbourne), PhD student Marie-France Duhamel (ANU), and affiliate Maïa Ponsonnet (The University of Sydney).
The conference presented an opportunity for those committed to the languages of Oceania to share their experiences, skills and educational challenges, with special reference to the Francophone Pacific. To organise the conference CoEDL worked with: le Centre des Nouvelles Etudes sur le Pacifique; la filière Langues et Cultures Océaniennes de l’UNC; l’Association des étudiants Découvre ton Caillou, and la filière Langues et Cultures Polynésiennes et du laboratoire EASTCO de l’UPF.
The conference title was Ce que les langues d'Océanie ont à nous apprendre: enjeux scientifiques et pédagogiques autour d'une diversité en partage, or in English ‘What the languages of Oceania have to teach us: the scientific and educational challenges of our shared diversity’.
“This was an excellent opportunity for CoEDL to put its commitment to a multilingual Australia into practice with all five team members presenting in French,” said Professor Evans.
There was mutual opportunity for learning, he said. While Pacific experts are keen to enlist further CoEDL support for training modules in topics such as high-level phonetic analysis, language variation, use of ELAN and other linguistic technology, the language educators in the French Pacific – New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna, and Francophone parts of Vanuatu – were breaking new ground in terms of their support for indigenous speakers to gain high-level training in linguistics, and in producing ambitious, high-quality curricula for local languages.
“After a long period in which education in the French Pacific was exclusively dominated by French, to the exclusion of languages like Tahitian in French Polynesia, Drehu and other Kanak languages in New Caledonia, or Futunan in Wallis and Futuna, we are now seeing a turn towards a much more pluralistic approach that is aiming at a trilingual approach – French, a local language, and English,” said Professor Evans. “There is also inspiring work on language documentation going on out of such locations as the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa.”
He said one of the key papers at the conference, presented by Gérard Lavigne, discussed the cognitive advantages to learning mathematics in Pacific languages, “the logical transparency of the numeral system in local languages, it was shown, actually makes it much easier for children to approach their first mathematical experiences through their mother tongue than through French.”
Professor Evans said that a whole range of future developments are likely to follow from the conference. For example, two speakers of Kanak (indigenous New Caledonian) languages who will be undertaking doctoral studies in linguistics are interested in including time at CoEDL under a ‘cotutelle’ arrangement, which allows them to spend time at two universities.
In terms of CoEDL presentations, the two Nicks both gave public evening talks, with Nick Evans speaking on the scientific and humanistic value of linguistic diversity and Nick Thieberger on the PARADISEC archive. Team members also gave workshop presentations on digital archiving (Thieberger), semantics and translation (Evans and Maïa Ponsonnet), phonetics (Janet Fletcher) and variation (Marie-France Duhamel).