ANDREW PAWLEY (Ph.D. University of Auckland 1967) is Professor of Linguistics in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. His main research interests are the description and history of languages and cultures of Pacific Island peoples and the nature of linguistic and communicative competence. He has done fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Tasmania. Since 1963 he has been engaged in interdisciplinary research among the Kalam of the Schrader Ranges, Papua New Guinea, with the late Ralph Bulmer, Saem Majnep and others, focusing on people's perception and use of the natural environment. Since 1967 he has worked with the people of Waya Island, Western Fiji, on linguistic and ethnobiological studies.
It is sometimes said that linguistic diversity has an adaptive value analogous to biodiversity. Each language is a store of distinctive intellectual wealth. It is the chief means by which the culture of its native speakers--their knowledge of the natural and social world (let 'knowledge' embrace 'beliefs'), verbal arts, social values and other traditions--are expressed and transmitted.
Fine words. But if languages do store such wealth then descriptions of languages generally do a poor job of representing it. Researchers wishing to uncover and record the intellectual capital deemed to be stored in languages face some basic questions of theory and method. I will address three such questions: (1) In what ways can a speech community's shared knowledge of the world properly be considered part of its language? (2) How can such knowledge effectively be represented and documented? (3) What sort of professional training and what scale and organisation of research projects are needed if appropriately rich descriptions of languages are to be achieved? I will make some suggestions, illustrated chiefly with reference to an interdisciplinary project initiated by Ralph Bulmer in 1960, investigating perceptions and use of the natural environment among the Kalam people of the Schrader Ranges, Papua New Guinea
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