0173 | Language Shift and Cultural Reproduction – Don Kulick


This is an excellent book. It is at once thought-provoking, revealing, informative and very well written.

Kulick spends months and months in the village of Gapun where no one under the age of 10 uses their vernacular language any more in favour of Tok Pisin, a pidgin language and one of Papua New Guinea’s lingua francas. His investigations into why this is so are carefully documented here in a very readable account of the social life of the village, its people and their culture.

He introduces you to a range of people in the village through descriptions of their lives, their relationships and, often, large chunks of their conversations or discourse. These are fascinating insights into the language and, therefore, the lives of the people. I felt like I got to know some of the villagers and, more than once, I read bits out to the wife to hear her squeal over some of the traditional practices that had me grimace internally as I read them! It’s all very engaging.

But on a more serious professional note, this is a very important text for those involved in language work in PNG because it captures a culture in the process of change. The catalyst for that change is, in large part Kulick suggests, the very presence of people like us involved in language work. This is quite sobering.

Kulick shows very carefully just how the villagers’ desires to develop themselves educationally, socially and economically have resulted in a subtle and often subconscious shift to Tok Pisin, a national lingua franca. Because of this, the book provides a lot of food for thought for those in language survey where it’s our job to understand how people use langauge to express themselves and as a vehicle for their desires.

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