Discourses of Orthography Development: Community-based Practice in Milne Bay (P.N.G.)

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Tensions between theory and practice in language development have long been
recognised. Linguists, informed by goals of scientific accuracy, have sought to engage with language development tasks in the communities with which they work. Meanwhile, the communities’ participation, informed by their own socio-historical context, may conflict with the framework of the linguist.

This thesis aims to make visible the complex web of issues involved in community based language development using a framework based in Foucauldian discourse analysis. The analysis is based on a case study from Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, where the speakers have been deeply involved in the process of orthography development and language standardisation. Two language development workshops formed the focal points through which community directed decisions have been made. This process of orthography
development and language standardisation provides the cultural ‘texts’ for analysis.

Within the case study, it becomes clear that for the communities involved, language is much more than analysable patterns of sounds and structures and meanings. Not only is language a tool of communication, but it is also an integral part of human culture. It expresses and negotiates relationships of belonging and exclusion, links with the past, connection with the present and dreams for the future. Language development choices are the result of a
complex set of socio-historically specific factors which both produce the options and allow for the renegotiation of possibilities. Consequently, the processes of language development involve the negotiation and explicit representation of socio-cultural identity resulting in the production of visual cultural artifacts such as an orthography, spelling rules, written stories, and word lists.

Such an analysis brings to light the relationships of power constructed and negotiated through the interaction of linguists and community members in the language development process. These relationships of power, and the constructs of truth and knowledge that create them, raise questions regarding the roles and rights of the various stakeholders in the processes of language development. The results of the analysis also lead to questioning the view of language as a discrete entity which can be best understood through linguistic analysis. This has applications not only for orthography development and language standardisation, but also for all community-based language work including language development as well as language maintenance programs.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • La Trobe University
  • Stebbins, Tonya, Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Bradley, David, Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date16 May 2008
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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