ELL: Rapanui: seeking support for book writing

Nicholas Ostler nostler at CHIBCHA.DEMON.CO.UK
Mon Mar 19 12:39:31 UTC 2001

Dear all

I received this interesting alert from Easter Island, where it seems
that there would be local interest in writing books in the local
language Rapanui.

Grant McCall <g.mccall at unsw.edu.au> is on site there, and would be
the first person to contact, if anyone is interested in getting
involved. Doug Whalen <whalen at alvin.haskins.yale.edu>  has also been
active to getting the message across on endangered-languages-l, but I
don't believe these details have been put about.

But to the message:

>Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 18:18:02 -0500
>From: Grant McCall <g.mccall at unsw.edu.au>
>Subject: Rapanui: A potentially endangered language
>I have your e-mail from the appendix of David Crystal's book,
>"Language death" which I purchased to use in my introductory
>anthropology lectures last year and brought with me for my fieldwork
>on Rapanui (Easter Island), which is run from January 2001 to June
>When I did my first fieldwork, between 1972-4, Rapanui was a
>vigorous language, spoken widely in the community and within earshot
>where ever one went in the small village of Hangaroa on the island.
>It is one of the 1,782 languages with between 1,000 and 9,999
>speakers (Crystal 2000: 15). The current population of Rapanui
>world-wide according to my genealogies is probably around 3,500,
>with most of those living on the island itself and the rest
>scattered around Chile, Tahiti, with smaller numbers in the USA and
>I use the term in the subject of this e-mail "potentially
>endangered" from the quoted Wurm classification on p. 21 of Crystal.
>With the incursion of direct satellite broadcast television from
>Santiago (Rapanui has been a part of Chile since 1888), radio and
>the influence of the many Chileans who reside here, the language is
>under threat of extinction. When a Rapanui marries a Chilean, and
>that accounts for most of the marriages today, the language of the
>household becomes Chilean Spanish. The child often can understand
>Rapanui, but cannot speak it and it soon lapses.
>In  spite of this, people are proud of their language, its
>distinctiveness amongst Pacific language and avidly purchase and
>listen to the many recordings of the island's traditional and modern
>music available on cassette and CD.
>All the characteristics of language death described by Crystal are
>in force, and I will not go into them just now. But there is some
>hope that I derive from his "six postulates" for survival (pp.
>1)An endangered language will progress if its speakers increase
>their prestige within the dominant community;
>2)An endangered language will progress if its speakers increase
>their wealth relative to the dominant community;
>3)An endangered language will progress if its speakers increase
>their legitimate power in the eyes of the dominant community;
>4)An endangered language will progress if its speakers have a strong
>presence in the educational system;
>5)An endangered language will progress if its speakers can write
>their language down; and,
>6)An endangered language will progress if its speakers can make use
>of electronic technology.
>Chilean officialdom has a tender spot for Rapanui and for most
>things Rapanui. Officially, Rapanui language and culture is
>supported and encouraged by the Chilean state. This tender spot,
>though, is more of a romantic, even touristic interest: no one makes
>a living on the island by knowing Rapanui. As people often remark,
>"the Rapanui language goes as far as the airport". I have heard this
>phrase so often during my three weeks (so far for a total of 18
>months) stay that I think it might have come from some sort of
>well-known speech or other source. Usually the exact words are used
>and by a variety of young and old speakers to me. Next time I must
>ask its origin, since I did not hear it during my previous fieldwork.
>The dominant community on Easter Island are the Islanders
>themselves. Chileans marry into Rapanui families and, in that way,
>get residence on a piece of land. Chilean small business people rent
>their shops from Rapanui landlords. The local tourism, including
>accommodation, entertainment, tours and support services is in the
>hands of the Rapanui themselves. There is one non-Rapanui hotel. It
>is the largest and the one with the most prestige. It used to be
>government run, but was bought out during the Pinochet term when so
>many things were privatised. But very rich Rapanui there are not,
>although one does own (just) a large hotel and a cargo ship that
>brings goods to the island.
>The Governor of Easter Island, who is appointed in the French
>inspired Chilean system, has been a Rapanui since 1983. The third
>governor since then, appointed just last year, continues the
>tradition. The Mayor of the municipality and all the councilors are
>Rapanui, occasionally a Chilean married to a Rapanui being elected.
>The high prestige staff in the public services, such as the bank,
>are all Chilean as are the professional and technical staff. The
>television station, whilst owned by the Municipality, is staffed by
>Chileans. The Naval Marines, National Police and Air Force personnel
>all are from Chile, sent here to "guard" the island against takeover
>(by whom, all ask).
>Most of the School teachers in the local primary and secondary
>("Liceo") school are Chileans; there are a few helpers who are
>Rapanui who give special Rapanui classes encouraged by the Chilean
>system. Rapanui no longer is forbidden within the School as it once
>was about 30 years ago. Promising children are sent with government
>and family aid to Chile for further education, all by Chileans of
>Rapanui only recently has been part of the weekly Mass, Tahitian
>texts being used since 1866. There is a move to have more of the
>Mass in Rapanui and the Chilean priest in charge encourages this,
>although he does not speak the language. There were some roughly
>cyclostyled ("mimeographed") booklets produced by a couple (Robert &
>Nancy Webber) from the Summer Institute of Linguistics in the 1980s
>in Rapanui. They are not widely used or known. No other literature
>in Rapanui exists. The language has been written since the 1860s and
>some Rapanui actually correspond in Rapanui. There is a biweekly
>language studies group consisting of senior men who meet to discuss
>language matters with an eye to producing a dictionary. They are
>paid for this by the Municipality and meet in the culture centre.
>Jesus Conte, originally from Spain, but living on Rapanui for a
>decade or more, is the director of this group. He has translated a
>19th century missionary dictionary from the French (of Father
>Roussell) and a "structural grammar" that I have not seen.
>Finally, there are a number of e-mail addresses on the island and
>one Internet centre, all run by Rapanui who speak Rapanui and who
>have training in Chile in programming and computer design. The
>e-mail addresses are used mostly for tourism businesses, but some
>occupy them for personal contact with distant family members.
>So, why this long e-mail?
>It seems to me that the existence of a viable literature is at least
>one factor in the potential for a rejuvenation of Rapanui as a
>language. No such literature exists at the moment.
>Equally since I have been here, a number of people have expressed to
>me the desire to "write a book". One woman wants to write a study of
>female dress and as a start put on a two hour show earlier this
>month with models (her family members) and old photographs and
>engravings projected to an audience of most of the island. Another
>woman wants to write her autobiography as she was the first town
>council member in 1966 and was involved in the modernisation of
>Rapanui from that date in various paid and volunteer roles. A young
>man has as a grandfather a Marquesan who came here in the 1930s and
>he wants to write a family history telling this story. Finally, just
>yesterday, there is a young man who is keen to detail land issues in
>the island's recent history.
>I am not encouraging such commentary; I am a social anthropologist
>and not a linguist. My work revolves around genealogies, land use
>and relations with the Chilean state.
>What interests me is that people themselves want to write about
>these topics (they didn't during my two previous visits in 1972-4
>and 1985-6) and to do do in Rapanui.
>There are no facilities here on Rapanui at the moment to do such a
>task and I write to your organisations in this general way because I
>hope that there might be an organisation - even an interested
>linguist - who might be willing to carrying out such a project: to
>assist Islanders in the production of contemporary literature in the
>Rapanui language creating at once the status of author and the
>literary material so needed if the language itself is to survive.
>Any suggestions or comments would be most gratefully received. I do
>this as a researcher on the island, from the University of New South
>Wales, in Sydney, Australia, and not representing any group or
>individual on the island other than myself.
>If there is someone who is interested in pursuing a project of
>language survival and literature production, I would be pleased to
>put such a project to local authorities, such as the Mayor and the
>Governor, both of whom I know.
>Thanks and I hope that at least a few on this mailing list managed
>to get this far in this rather long e-mail.
>Grant McCall
>Centre for South Pacific Studies
>The University of New South Wales
>Sydney NSW 2052
>#                                       #
>#              Grant McCall             #
>#  Fieldwork on Rapanui (Easter Island) #
>#              2001 -- 2002             #
>#      e-mail: g.mccall at unsw.edu.au     #
>#                                       #
># Postal Address: Easter Island, Chile  #
>#                                       #

                        Nicholas   Ostler
               Foundation for Endangered Languages
                   Registered Charity 1070616

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