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Studying the vernacular in the vernacular – Luqa literacy in the Solomon Islands

Australian National University, Learning, Nicholas Evans, Summer School

Date: 28 June 2019

In this public lecture, Dr Alpheaus Graham Zobule takes the audience on the fascinating 20-year journey of the Kulu Language Institute in the Solomon Islands, which he founded and continues to direct.

(Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/InBDa6uq9zA

In the late 1990s, Dr Zobule was a young man of the Luqa language who had just graduated with a Masters Degree majoring in Bible Studies and Linguistics. When he came up with the idea of translating the Bible into the vernacular language, speakers of Luqa were no doubt thrilled about the possibility of having a very important but foreign book written in their own vernacular.

Dr Zobule calls the Institute a community language movement, which has involved creating a conceptual framework, orthography and educational program for Luqa.  

“The goal of translating a foreign book into the familiar vernacular is so that its speakers can understand it,” Dr Zobule recalls. “However, achieving that goal seemed remote and unrealisable when it became obvious that most vernacular speakers themselves could not intelligibly read the first book, the Gospel of Mark, even when it was translated and published in their own language as a trial.”

While they all wanted to understand such an important book, when it was translated a greater practical difficulty became obvious: the young and adult vernacular speakers needed to be taught to read and understand their own language first. So was born the literacy concept which later formally became Kulu Language Institute.

“With little funding, it is the community that has done this, studying their language in their own language,” Dr Zobule said. “It’s about people discovering something through reading that has given them the ability to do things they were not able to do before.”

Dr Zobule’s visit in November 2018 was the genesis of an exciting new collaboration between the Centre and the Kulu Language Institute. In August, Centre researchers Nick Evans, Bethwyn Evans (ANU) and Nick Thieberger and Debra McDougall (University of Melbourne), as well as Aurelie Cauchard (University of the South Pacific, Fiji) and Debbie Hill (University of Canberra), will travel to the Solomon Islands for an intensive five-day workshop with Institute members.

They will discuss and provide expert advice on a wide range of issues related to the Solomon Islands’ languages, including their history and relations, tools for recording, transcribing and analysis, as well as methods for locating archival records, and creating dictionaries and other resources.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University