Research Articles

Language endangerment, language documentation and capacity building: challenges from New Guinea

  • William A. Foley


The New Guinea region, with its extreme linguistic diversity, over a thousand languages in a land area of 900,000 km, presents the urgent task of language documentation with an especially demanding challenge. Not only is the sheer number of languages daunting, but the actual number of genetic linguistic stocks is very high, at least thirty, but probably more, and the typological profiles of the languages are extremely varied (see Foley (2000) for an overview). While language endangerment is not as advanced as in some other areas of the world such as Australia and the Americas, most of the languages of New Guinea are spoken by very small speech communities, under a couple of thousand speakers and in many cases much less, and the inexorable advance of economic development, modernization and globalization threaten their viability as elsewhere, so that the current linguistic richness will certainly be greatly depleted by the turn of the next century. In this complex, shifting linguistic situation, language endangerment is unlikely to be a monolithic process, and it is therefore important to survey some of the paths different speech communities have taken.

Keywords: New Guinea, language documentation, language endangerment, capacity building, challenges

How to Cite:

Foley, W., (2014) “Language endangerment, language documentation and capacity building: challenges from New Guinea”, Language Documentation and Description 2, 28-38. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed