What is the Linguistic Society of PNG?

In these monthly discussions we answer one question about language in PNG and beyond. This month we are looking at the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea, asking what it does and who its members are.

ONE of the difficulties that Papua New Guinean academics have is making and maintaining contacts with their colleagues overseas. Travelling to international conferences is expensive and not many people have good enough internet access to be able to participate in online conferences. Linguists in PNG have it much easier than most, as the annual conference of the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea (LSPNG) attracts participants from many other countries so it is the colleagues from overseas who have to raise money to travel. This year the conference will be held Tuesday and Wednesday 21-22 Sept 2021 at the SIL headquarters at Ukarumpa, near Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands.The LSPNG is the oldest active academic association in PNG. Founded in 1967 by staff at the then newly established University of Papua New Guinea, “Kivung—the Linguistic Society of the University of Papua and New Guinea” aimed at producing an academic journal about language in PNG and at promoting both linguistics and PNG languages at the university. With several name changes in the 1970s as membership grew beyond UPNG and as Papua and New Guinea were united at independence, the association became the “Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea”. In the late 1990s the association fell dormant due in part to the departure from the country of a number of its most active expatriate members. Fortunately, it was resurrected in 2011 and has been in operation ever since.One of the major activities of the association is the annual conference, usually held in different locales on the New Guinea mainland. These bring together internationally recognised linguists working with languages in

Question time at the LSPNG Conference 2019.

Melanesia as well as local linguists working with SIL or at one of the country’s universities. Recent years have seen increasing participation by students from the linguistics programmes at the University of PNG and the University of Goroka as well as participation by community language activists. A visiting German participant mentioned that the mix of highly theoretical presentations by professors together with explanations of practical projects by students and community language activists makes LSPNG conferences quite unlike any linguistic conference he had attended in Europe or North America.Conference organisers say that this year because of Covid travel and meeting restrictions, at least part of the conference will have to be online, including an online plenary talk by Professor Lise Dobrin, an anthropological linguist at the University of Virginia, but they are hoping that at least some sessions will be in person in Ukarumpa. Presentations and participants are expected from PNG, Australia, the United States, and Europe. The organisers say that they are particularly interested in presentations by Papua New Guinean speakers about their own languages. Interested persons can contact the organisers by emailing [email protected] Presentation abstracts should be sent by next week.Another major activity is the society journal, originally called “Kivung” and since 1981 “Language and Linguistics in Melanesia”. The cover of the journal shows a stylised globe with the bottom right hand quarter showing a map of Melanesia, symbolising that 25 per cent of all the world’s languages are in Melanesia. Since 2011 the journal has been available online at www.langlxmelanesia.com. Being online relieves society members from the expensive and time-consuming task of printing and mailing the journal out, and allows it to give the public free access to the journal. In this way it acts as a public library of linguistics for people around the country and overseas. Current journal editor and UPNG lecturer Dr Olga Temple says that in recent years the journal webpage has been visited over 50,000 times. A main reason is its complete collection of PDFs of articles every issue since the first issue in 1967. These can be downloaded for free. Articles include topics such as Tok Pisin, local language documentation and description, language history as well as applied linguistic topics such as bilingual education, teaching English as a second language, and cultural questions related to language use. There are also proceedings of annual conferences, reviews of new books, a bibliography of Tok Pisin-related articles, and a new section with annotated texts in Pacific languages.

PNG’s own linguistic journal.

There are three special issues available online, one a collection of articles written just before Independence about Tok Pisin (“Tok Pisin i go we?”), one on the classification and history of Papuan languages, and one about language issues in the Pacific and Africa arising from the German colonial era. Contributing authors are based in PNG as well as at universities and institutions around the world. The journal is peer-reviewed, which means that articles are examined by experts in the field who make sure that opinions can be backed up by evidence and that data are presented in an appropriate way.Dr Temple says that she is excited about a recent addition to the site, an online book by Prof Robert Blust of the University of Hawaiʻi about several languages of the Admiralty Islands. She says it offers a framework that people in PNG will be able to use to help them publish descriptions of their own languages. She can be contacted at [email protected] Membership in the Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea is open to anyone who has an interest in language and linguistics. Current LSPNG president and head of linguistics at UPNG Sakarepe Kamene welcomes academics, teachers, students,translators, and, especially, community language activists to the LSPNG 2021 conference in Ukarumpa.

  • Professor Volker is a linguist living in New Ireland, and an Adjunct Professor in The Cairns Institute, James Cook University in Australia. He welcomes your language questions for this monthly discussion at [email protected] Or continue the discussion on the Facebook Language Toktok page.