Volume 27 Number 1
June 2005


France Mugler

Dr Mugler introduces the USP workshop on language policies in
education, at which the papers included in this issue were presented, and
goes on to give an overview of the linguistic situation in the Pacific.

Language and culture in the Pacific Region: Issues, practices, and
alternatives ‘Ana Taufe‘ulungaki 12
Dr Taufe‘ulungaki’s USP workshop paper was based on her speech
given at the Forum Secretariat meeting of education ministers held in
Apia 2004. In it, she discusses a wide range of issues dealing with “what
languages, to be used by whom, for what purposes, and at what level of

Language policy: the case of Samoa
Elaine Lameta 43
This paper looks at language policies and social justice in general and
then in the context of Samoa’s efforts to draw up and implement their
own language policy for schools. The paper gives one a good idea of the
many issues involved in this process.

The Ivolavosa and the codification of Fijian
Paul Geraghty 77
Dr Geraghty was closely involved with the compilation of the as yet
unpublished Ivolavosa Vakaviti (Monolingual Fijian Dictionary). In his
paper, he outlines the origin and development of Standard Fijian and
describes its sociolinguistic environment. The dictionary is one of the
first monolingual dictionaries of a Pacific language.


Planning in a multi-lingual country: The case of Papua New 95
Guinea: Sakarepe Kamene, Willie Juduo and Lucy Nakin
The authors describe how and why PNG ‘s language policy making is in
its infancy. However, already it is clear that the government wants it to
reflect a focus on social issues. The 1995 National Educational reform
strongly recommended the use of vernacular languages in elementary
schools, and a lot of progress has been made in this area.

Prospects for the future: The case of Nauru
Jarden Kephas 107
In the world’s smallest independent republic, English is the language of
instruction at all levels of education. No attempt to introduce Nauruan
into the school curriculum has been successful. Jarden Kephas explains
why and outlines his vision for change.

Language maintenance: The case of Guam

Marilyn Salas 113
Dr Salas’ ‘voice’ comes through in this transcript of her workshop
presentation. Beginning with a song, and ending with jelly beans, she
describes the previous and current status of Chamorro, the language
‘held’ by about 25,000 of Guam’s 62,000 Chamorrans.

The current s ituation: The case of the Cook Islands 123

Ina Herrman
There is increasing concern about English becoming the dominant
language and the use of Cook Islands Maori declining, but steps are
under way to remedy the situation. The language policy implemented in
schools is guided by the Cook Islands Education Policy, which has as
one of its goals to develop all students as bilingual in Cook Islands
Maori and English.

The language context of Pacific countries: A summary 134

France Mugler and Frances Pene



France Mugler, guest editor

This issue is a compilation of selected papers which were presented at
the University of the South Pacific (USP) Language Policies in
Education Workshop and edited for this issue. In January 2004, in Apia,
there was a meeting of the education ministers of the Pacific Island
Forum countries. The Director of USP’s Institute of Education, Dr ‘Ana
Taufe‘ulungaki, presented a paper entitled “Language and culture in the
Pacific region: issues, practices and alternatives”. She concluded her
paper by recommending that the ministers “[c]onsider adopting language
policies as part of the education planning process; and request PRIDE to
hold a follow-up regional meeting on language policy and practice for
senior education officials”. The workshop eventually took place in
February 2005 at the Jovili Meo Mission Centre in Suva, with
representatives from the 15 member states of the PRIDE region, resource
people, and Institute of Education staff, who organised the workshop.

Dr Taufe‘ulungaki’s reasons for urging education planners to give more
attention to language planning arise from her concern, shared by many,
that Pacific children are often disadvantaged by not gaining enough
competence in their mother tongue before switching to a second (or
third) language as the medium of instruction. She referred to a World
Bank study of 1994, which found that mother tongue instruction is
crucial to cognitive development and the effective learning of a second
language. Moreover, children have a right to being educated in their
mother tongue. The use of the mother tongue as the medium of
instruction throughout primary school and as a subject in secondary
school would also help maintain and revitalise indigenous languages and
the cultures that are associated with them.

Currently, Pacific states are addressing this complex issue in a variety of
ways, depending on their history, present circumstances and goals for the
future. There is also great variety in terms of the extent to which
ministries of education have included provisions for mother tongue
education in their planning.


Directions: Journal of Educational Studies 27 (1)

The countries

The countries represented here are island nations located in the Pacific
Basin, ranging from those in the middle of the South Pacific, such as
Tonga, Niue, Samoa, Fiji, and Tuvalu, with Cook Islands the
easternmost, to Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea
(PNG) in the west, and Kiribati, Nauru, the Marshall Islands (RMI), the
Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Palau to the north. It is a
region of great diversity in size, population and economy, colonial
history and political status, language and culture.

While the Pacific is the largest ocean in the world and is home to
thousands of islands, its population is quite small. Of the countries
represented here, the largest, PNG, with 5,5 million, is not typical of the
region, and no other country reaches a million. The next largest, Fiji, has
nearly 900,000 people, the Solomon Islands about half a million,
Vanuatu a little over 200,000 and Samoa a little under. Several countries
have just over 100,000 people (Tonga, FSM, Kiribati), while the
populations of others are only in the tens of thousands (RMI, Cook
Islands, Palau, Tuvalu). The smallest, Niue, with around 2,000 people, is
also the only country whose population has declined in the past ten

Out migration is significant for many of these countries, particularly the
smaller ones with a limited economic base. There are large numbers of
Pacific Islanders in the major English-speaking Pacific Rim countries,
such as Samoans in New Zealand (particularly Auckland), Tongans in
the United States (especially in Utah), or Fiji Islanders on the west coast
of the USA and Canada. Neighbouring Australia also has a large
population of Pacific Islanders, and there are more Niueans, for example,
in New Zealand than in Niue. Migrants tend to keep close ties with their
home island communities, contribute significantly to the economy
through remittances, and return regularly to visit.

All the countries were colonised at one time or another, except for
Tonga, which was, however, a British protectorate for most of the
twentieth century. Many other colonial powers were present in the wider



Pacific at some stage (Germany, Japan, France, the USA, Spain), but
Britain and later its local surrogates Australia and New Zealand in the
south of the region and the USA in the north eventually became the most
important ones. Most countries reached independence in the last thirty
years or so of the twentieth century, with Samoa (then ‘Western Samoa’)
the first to become independent in 1968. Vanuatu, which had been
jointly administered by Britain and France, finally reached independence
in 1980. The Cook Islands and Niue are both self-governing states in free
association with New Zealand, with their nationals having dual
citizenship, while FSM, RMI, and Palau have compacts of free
association with the USA.
Linguistic situation
a) Indigenous languages

The Pacific region is also diverse linguistically; indeed, it is the most
diverse in the world. In the area covered by the countries represented
here, over 1,000 languages are spoken. Most of these are in Melanesia,
with Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands accounting for
the largest number, ranging from over 60 in Solomon Islands to more
than 750 in PNG. Vanuatu, with its relatively small population, has the
highest language density in the world, with around 100 languages for
about 200,000 people. In Polynesia, on the other hand, most countries
have one indigenous language (Samoa, Niue) or two or three (Tonga,
Cook Islands, Fiji). This is true also of parts of Micronesia, where
Kiribati, Nauru, and RMI have one indigenous language each, while
Palau and FSM have a dozen or so each. Tuvaluan, a Polynesian
language, is spoken in all but one of the islands of Tuvalu, located in the
Micronesian geographical region. The number of speakers per language
in the Pacific varies greatly, with the largest having several hundred
thousand speakers (Fijian, Samoan, Tongan and, in PNG, Enga, Kuman,
Hagen) and others, again mostly in Melanesia, only a couple of
thousand, a hundred, or even less.

The indigenous languages of most of these countries belong to the
Austronesian language family, the language family with the widest
geographical reach in the world. In the Pacific Basin, Austronesian


Directions: Journal of Educational Studies 27 (1)

stretches from Easter Island in the east to PNG in the west, and from
Hawai’i in the north to New Zealand in the south. Beyond the Pacific
Ocean, Austronesian languages are found in southeast Asia (the
Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia), Taiwan in the east and
Madagascar in the west. However, most languages in PNG and a handful
in Solomon Islands (mostly in the north-west) are non-Austronesian (or
‘Papuan’) languages. All the Austronesian languages (of our countries)
are closely related historically and belong to the Oceanic sub-group,
except Palauan, a member of the Western Malayo-Polynesian sub-group.
b) Introduced languages

European contact, then colonisation brought other languages to the
Pacific. The most important colonial language which remains in the
region is English, which has official statuseither by law or in actual
factin all the countries represented here. In Vanuatu, the other major
language introduced in the Pacific in colonial times, French, is also
official, alongside English and the national language, Bislama.

Colonisation also led to the development of other languages, particularly
Melanesian Pidgin English, which evolved as a lingua franca among
islanders with different mother tongues recruited or kidnapped through
‘blackbirding’ to work on plantations in Queensland, Fiji and Samoa.
Melanesian Pidgin, originating as a restricted jargon used for limited
communicative functions, both between overseers and labourers and
among labourers, remained useful to Melanesians after the plantation

Like other pidgins, Melanesian Pidgin borrowed most of its vocabulary
from the language used by the dominant group, in this case English,
while its grammar broadly reflects that of the indigenous languages of its
users. With continued use arising from increased contact between
Melanesians with different first languages through migration,
intermarriage and urbanisation, the pidgin expanded both its functions,
and its vocabulary and grammar. It has now become a first language (i.e.
a creole) for perhaps half a million or more Melanesians brought up in



urban areas, and continues to be a second (or third) language for perhaps
over two million others.

There are three varieties of Melanesian Pidgin: Tok Pisin in PNG,
(Solomons) Pijin in Solomon Islands and Bislama in Vanuatu. Each
variety is used extensively as a lingua franca in its home country and
also fulfils some official functions, particularly in the media. In Vanuatu,
Bislama is recognised both as one of the three official languages and as
the national language, a powerful symbol of identity and unity in a
country formerly divided along the linguistic fault line between its
former colonisers. The three varieties of Melanesian Pidgin are mutually
intelligible, and the language also functions as a regional lingua franca
among citizens of the three countries. In the south of PNG, another
pidgin, Hiri Motu, serves as a lingua franca in that region.

Also introduced as a consequence of colonialism is Fiji Hindi, a
language (or koiné) resulting from contact between dialects of Hindi
spoken in the north of India, which evolved among Indian labourers
brought to Fiji under the indenture system in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century. Fiji Hindi has developed into a distinct variety of
Hindi, with its own grammar and incorporating in its vocabulary a
number of words from Fijian and new borrowings from English, and is
spoken by nearly all Fiji citizens of Indian ancestry (‘Fiji Indians’ or
‘Indo-Fijians’). Like other languages that have arisen out of recent
language contact (such as pidgins and creoles), Fiji Hindi is not always
recognised as a language in its own right by some of its speakers. It has
grown to be significantly different from its more prestigious relative
Standard Hindi (sometimes referred to as Shudhliterally
c) Multilingualism

The introduction or development of languages new to the region has for
the most part added to the linguistic diversity of the region rather than
displaced indigenous languages. The result has been bilingua lism in
some countries and increased multilingualism in others, particularly in
Melanesia, where the multiplicity of languages and contact between


Directions: Journal of Educational Studies 27 (1)

neighbouring speech communities made multilingualism the norm long
before European contact. This means that many Pacific Islanders are
conversant in at least two languages, and many Melanesians in particular
are often fluent in three or more. In addition, speakers of minority
language groups are often familiar with the majority indigenous
language of their country. So, most Samoans know both Samoan and
English, most Cook Islanders know English and Rarotongan, even when
they are native speakers of another variety of Cook Island Maori, and
most Kiribati speakers living on Rabe Island know Fijian as well as
English. Many Solomon Islanders will speak the language of their
mother, the language of their father, Solomons Pijin, and English.

The threat to indigenous languages from Englishand in Melanesia
from the lingua francas, probably a more immediate menacehas only
recently started to become a widespread concern, as the issue of
language endangerment has gained prominence worldwide. This is
perhaps especially true of the Cook Islands and Niue, where the ease of
access to New Zealand means that many people commute, and the
predominance of English in the communities in New Zealand is
transferred to the islanders’ homelands. The situation is similar in the
countries closely associated with the USA.
Language policy
a) Language policy and the constitutions of the Pacific

Language policy in the Pacific varies greatly, particularly with respect to
the degree to which it is officially codified. This is reflected in the range
of coverage of language issues in the constitutions of the countries under

Perhaps the most common mention of language occurs in the provisions
for individual rights, where 8 of the 14 constitutions specify that a person
detained, arrested, or charged, has the right to be informed of the charges
in a language he or she understands, and to the free services of an
interpreter. A few constitutions also have statements prohibiting



discrimination on various grounds, including language (Fiji, RMI, Palau,

The status of a language or languages as official is dealt with explicitly
in few constitutions. The constitution of Palau states that both Palauan
and English are official languages, and that of Vanuatu recognises
Bislama, English and French. The constitution of Fiji declares that the
official language of Parliament is English but adds that members of
either house can also use “Fijian or Hindustani”.

In the constitutions of other countries, the de facto official status of a
language can be interpreted as being implicit in other provisions, such as
those that specify which language(s) can be used in debates in
Parliament or in written bills, laws, and records of proceedings. In
countries with only one indigenous language, the official status of that
language goes without saying (e.g. Samoan in Samoa). The same is true
in countries with more than one indigenous language where one is
acknowledged as the main variety (Tongan, rather than Niuafo‘ou, in
Tonga, for instance, or Tuvaluan in Tuvalu, rather than the Kiribati
spoken on Nui). The constitution of the Cook Islands specifies that the
records of proceedings of Parliament must be in the Maori “as spoken in
Rarotonga”. As for English, the very fact that constitutions are written in
it – or that there is at least a version in it – can also be taken as implying
official status, along with its possible use in debates, bills and other
written government documents.

Many constitutions contain a provision about the possibility of conflict
or inconsistency between the version in English and the version in the
indigenous language. In most cases, and unsurprisingly since
constitutions were usually initially drafted in English, the English
version is to prevailCook Islands, Palau, Kiribati, RMI, and Samoa,
although Samoa’s constitution states that the Samoan and English
versions are “equally authoritative”. In Niue also, both the Niuean and
the English versions are deemed “equally authentic ”. But the constitution
treats the problem differently, stating that in case of “apparent
discrepancy”, any determination must be made and “regard shall be had
to all the circumstances that tend to establish the true intent and meaning


Directions: Journal of Educational Studies 27 (1)

of that provision”. Similarly, in case of conflict between versions of the
records of proceedings of the Assembly, the Assembly can determine
that one or the other version should prevail. In the case of Fiji, English
also is to prevail in case of difference, but there are to date no complete
translations in Fijian or Hindustani, in spite of a provision which
declares that such translations “are to be available ”, and another which
affirms the equal status of the three languages. The constitutions of FSM,
Nauru, PNG, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are silent on
this issue.

The lack of translation of the Fiji constitution points to the general issue
of possible discrepancy between policy and practice. This affects in
particular citizens’ access to services which may be protected by law but
may not always be implemented in fact. The lack of training in
interpretation and translation, for example, is one factor which limits the
full implementation of some provisions of constitutions throughout the

As for the issue of national language, only two countries deal with it
explicitly in their constitutions: Palau, where “the Palauan traditional
languages” are named national languages, and Vanuatu, with Bislama.
The Vanuatu constitution also states that the Republic protects the local
languages and “may declare one of them as a national language.”
Moreover, the Council of Chiefs “may make recommendations for the
preservation and promotion of ni-Vanuatu cultures and languages.” In
some countries the issue has not been tackled, perhaps because of the
choice of a national language or because languages may be difficult. This
is especially true of Fiji and the countries of Melanesia. In Fiji, with its
roughly equal populations of speakers of the two main languages, Fijian
and Fiji Hindi, the choice may be considered controversial. PNG, with
its many languages, including two lingua francas, may prefer to have no
declared national language rather than to choose one or several. In
Solomon Islands also, no single indigenous language fulfils the unifying
symbolic function required, and Pijin, which would fulfil this function
well, suffers from too little prestige or official recognition. Elsewhere in
the Pacific, it is obvious in most cases that the indigenous language, or
the main indigenous language, fulfils that function and is the de facto, if



not de jure, national languagethus Tongan in Tonga, Samoan in
Samoa, etc.
b) Language policy in education

What is true of language policy in general is true also of language policy
in education, with a range of coverage of the issue in different
government documents. Language policy in education is not generally
addressed in constitutions, with the exception of two of the Melanesian
countries. The constitution of Vanuatu specifies that English and French
are “the principal languages of education”thus excluding the national
language, Bislamaand the constitution of PNG states that “all persons
and governmental bodies [are] to endeavour to achieve universal literacy
in Pisin, Hiri Motu or English, and in tok ple s or ita eda tano gado’. And
while several constitutions call for respect for traditional culture,
including language, [SI, PNG] and others provide for the right of their
citizens to access services besides legal ones in an official language other
than English [Fiji, Vanuatu], none has specific provisions to ensure
perhaps the most important language right of its young citizens, the

right of access to education in their mother-tongue. Most official
statements on language policy, insofar as they exist, tend to emanate
from other sources, ministries of education in particular.

In practice, there is a wide variety of ways in which languages are used
in the education systems of the Pacific. Some of this diversity is due to
differences in the language situation of the various countries, especially
between the countries of Polynesia and most of those in Micronesia, that
have a small number of indigenous languages (often only one) per
country and where these languages tend to have an important place in
education, and the far more linguistically diverse Melanesian countries,
where the choice of an indigenous language is more complex. The
situation in Melanesia, however, has started to change in the past decade
or so, with attempts in PNG to incorporate indigenous languages much
more in education, particular as languages of instruction, through a
localised approach and, more recently, to some extent, in Vanuatu.


Directions: Journal of Educational Studies 27 (1)

In all the countries under study, English has a presencesometimes an
overwhelming oneboth as subject of study and as medium of
instruction. It is widely seen as the door to opportunityif not the main
reason to send children to schoolin terms of access to white collar
jobs, to higher education within the region and in Pacific Rim countries,
to jobs in regional organisations and beyond the Pacific. In the Solomon
Islands, for example, English is the sole recognised medium of
instruction from the beginning of schooling, and in Fiji, although the first
three years of school are supposed to be in ‘the vernacular’, English is
introduced as a subject from the very beginning and often also starts
being used as medium of instruction very early. On the other hand,
Tongan, for instance, is used as a medium of instruction throughout the
primary and secondary levels. But in all countries, no matter what the
official policy might be, code switching between different mediums,
official or not, is widespread, although it is often ignored. The diversity
in the mother tongues of children is another issue. A child whose first
language is, say, Cook Island Maori, may not know Rarotongan. In Fiji,
where the term ‘vernacular’ tends to be used merely in contradistinction
to English, a child whose first language is Fijian may in fact speak, say,
Nadroga, a variety mutually unintelligible with Standard Fijian, while
children who study Hindi as a subject is school soon realise that it is
significantly different from the Hindi that they speak at home. To some
extent, this is true also of English, which has developed localised
varieties, particularly in colloquial registers, which are different from the
formal English taught in schools.

The low status of pidgins, creoles and koines, due to ignorance and
prejudice about their ‘mixed’ nature and historical association with the
now infamous labour trade, means that they are still often not considered
worthy of study as subjects or, even less, suitable as languages of
instruction. Even in Vanuatu, where a pidgin/creole, Bislama, is both
lingua franca and the national language, it has no official place in
education and circulars routinely remind teachers that it is banned from
the classroom. Indigenous languages suffer from another paradox.
Although their teaching as subjects of study is widely practiced and
supported, in the name of cultural identity and as a guarantor of language
maintenance, there is still prejudice or at least doubt about their



suitability as languages of instructio n, in spite of their widespread, if
often unofficial, use in the classroom. They are often said not to have the
vocabulary to express technical or scientific concepts, in particular, or
complex notions in general. While vocabulary does need to continue to
be developed, as is any language, any lack of technical terminology fails
to keep teachers from using indigenous languages. Indeed they tend to do
so precisely when concepts are difficult.

These are only a few of the issues that are relevant to the formulation or
review of language policy and practice in education. There are many
others, ranging from unresolved problems in the standardisation of
orthography of some indigenous languages, to nation-wide choices of
languages at the different levels of both the formal and informal
education systems; from the general goals of the policy (language
maintenance? eventual transition to English - or French? functional
literacy in several languages?) and the structure which will best ensure
that these goals are reached (When to introduce which language? When
to switch?), to a consideration of attitudes among the community at large
(Why is it important to study one’s own language, when one ‘already
knows’ it? Does the teaching of a language as subject really ensure its
maintenance? What is the difference between a medium and a subject?).
Many practical problems, related to materials development and teacher
training, for instance, also need addressing.

Baldauf, Richard B. and Allan Luke, eds. 1990. Language Planning and
Education in Australasia and the South Pacific. Clevedon and
Philiadelphia: Multilingual Matters.
Benton, Richard A. 1981. The Flight of the Amokura: Oceanic Languages and
Formal Education in the South Pacific. Wellington, New Zealand Council
for Educational Research.
Lynch, John. 1998. Pacific Languages. An introduction. 1998. Honolulu:
University of Hawai’i Press.
Mugler, France and John Lynch, eds. 1996. Pacific Languages in Education.
Suva: University of the South Pacific.
Siegel, Jeff. 1996. Vernacular Education in the South Pacific. A Report to
AusAID. University of New England.