Relocation of Language Groups – Jeremy Hammond

[From Jeremy Hammond, Field methods student, University of Sydney]
In Australia the relocation or ‘resettlement’ of Indigenous Australians during the 20th century has caused the extinction of many dialects. The then Government motives of assimilation have caused fractured social and cultural landscapes. In western NSW at Lake Cargelligo, the Ngiyampaa and Paakantji people were relocated to Murrin Bridge in Wiradjuri Country and have lost much of their cultural knowledge.
Elsewhere in the world there are similar patterns and in particular high rates of urbanisation (such as in Vanuatu and PNG) may exacerbate this process. During a course on development in the Mekong River Region, I was made aware of entire village movement in the name of ‘progress’ (and check out today’s ABC Ockham’s Razor commentary by Milton Osborne on the Mekong and the Salween Rivers – he wrote River at risk).

Dam construction and forest harvesting, in particular, forces the movement of villages from their traditional lands and gardens to different environments. In the middle, Laos is a linguistically diverse country that has over 81 living languages in a geographically small country (see:Ethnologue, and here in the blogosphere). There is constant dialogue between actors, with debate over environmental impact studies and economic cost benefits. However, the risks of moving, connecting and re-aligning language groups must surely be a issue that is worth consideration. How many of these language groups will be viable in a generation?
There are many NGO participants with idealistic goals of river, community and ecological protection but I am concerned that there are few vocal ones that recognise the need for a understanding of how quickly (one generation as in the case of some Australian communities) language loss can occur. The cultures of the native minorities in developing nations are at risk as the development juggernaut powers on.

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