Cherishing a remote language

Cherishing a remote language

Many of Papua New Guinea's 800 languages are spoken by just a few hundred people. The Ende language as 700 speakers in three villages around the Upiara airstrip in the South Fly, Western Province.

Recently Catherine Scanlon, a linguistics graduate student from the University of California, Santa Barbara spent time with the isolated people group creating a written record that will help preserve the Ende language and culture. 

Story and Photos Mandy Glass

MAF picked up Catherine at Upiara after she spent three weeks in Limol village recording the tribe’s language.

'MAF is the only reliable air-service when it comes to convenient means of transport.'  Catherine Scanlon

The linguist graduate first visited Limol two years ago with another Stanford linguistics student, who community members had invited to assist with the Ende Language Project.

The two, and other researchers have been working closely with Ende Language Project Coordinator Warama Kurupel and other members of the Ende community to document and analyse the language.

Endangered language

The small language group consisting of roughly 700 people actively speaking the Ende language. Although Ende people only began writing their language in recent years, they are interested to see it analysed and eventually to have a dictionary with all of their vocabulary. Even though many of the people speak English fluently they want to conserve their unique language and a dictionary definitely will help.

Getting words on the page 

Catherine states that the 'outcomes so far include a draft of an Ende-English dictionary, a sketch grammar, and many hours of recordings that have been written down and translated.' The ongoing work will help to preserve the Ende tribe's cultural, historical, and botanical knowledge and may serve as a resource in the future if the community wants to continue their earlier Bible translation project in partnership with another organisation.

By plane or by boat

Upiara is located south of the mighty Fly River delta in a very humid and swampy area with only waterways around and hardly any dirt roads. 'MAF is the only reliable air-service when it comes to convenient means of transport,' says Catherine Scanlon, 'especially when time for data collection and catching international flights are valuable factors.'

'A draft of an Ende-English dictionary, a sketch grammar, and many hours of recordings that have been written down and translated.' Catherine Scanlon