WHILE I commend all Papua New Guineans who write and have had works published in English, I wonder if I could further challenge some of the successful writers to also write in their own native language.
Or perhaps to translate some of their writings from English to a local language.
I am aware that the Summer Institute of Linguistics, in addition to publishing religious material in many languages, has also helped to publish cultural material. And there may be other material I’m unaware of.
I presume that Daniel Kumbon is fluent in the Enga language and that several of writers from Simbu would be fluent in the Kuman and Golin languages.
If it is worthwhile to try and prevent languages from dying, then producing literature in these languages will certainly help.
If they do die out then at least the literature will have helped the language to survive for future generations.
Granted that there may be problems with orthography, that is, what alphabet to use, and problems with spelling. There may or may not be an acceptable alphabet for a particular language.
Some existing translations of the New Testament use one or two strange letters to represent sounds that the translators felt could not be adequately translated by the English alphabet.
I have come across village people in Mt Hagen who have learnt to read fluently in their own language.
Initially they had to work hard at this, but, like riding a bicycle, once learnt it is not forgotten easily.
Some of them were also adept at reading both the older 1965 Lutheran translation of the New Testament in Melpa and the later 1995 SIL-Bible Society translation. Both translations use slightly different orthography.
While I cite the New Testament as an example of writing in the traditional languages, it is mainly from a cultural viewpoint and not from a religious one that I am advocating the promotion of writing in local language.
Whether Muslim or Christian or Agnostic, the preservation of language is, in my opinion, something to be valued and worked for.
Many language groups have developed their own chanted sagas; long narrative tales in a poetic style which would traditionally have been chanted at night as entertainment and education.
Some of these have been collected in audio recordings. Some may have already been transcribed in written format. It would be useful to have a written record of all these chanted sagas.
Modern songs in local languages are popular. Again it may be interesting to write down some of these.
In brief, writing in a local language may help to save a language from extinction and it may well preserve local history.