Language and ethnobiological skills decline precipitously in Papua New Guinea, the world's most linguistically diverse nation

Kik, Alfred, Adamec, Martin, Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y., Bajzekova, Jarmila, Baro, Nigel, Bowern, Claire, Colwell, Robert K., Drozd, Pavel, Duda, Pavel, Ibalim, Sentiko, Jorge, Leonardo R., Mogina, Jane, Ruli, Ben, Sam, Katerina, Sarvasy, Hannah, Saulei, Simon, Weiblen, George D., Zrzavy, Jan, and Novotny, Vojtech (2021) Language and ethnobiological skills decline precipitously in Papua New Guinea, the world's most linguistically diverse nation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (22). e2100096118.

PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


Papua New Guinea is home to >10% of the world’s languages and rich and varied biocultural knowledge, but the future of this diversity remains unclear. We measured language skills of 6,190 students speaking 392 languages (5.5% of the global total) and modeled their future trends using individual-level variables characterizing family language use, socioeconomic conditions, students’ skills, and language traits. This approach showed that only 58% of the students, compared to 91% of their parents, were fluent in indigenous languages, while the trends in key drivers of language skills (language use at home, proportion of mixed-language families, urbanization, students’ traditional skills) predicted accelerating decline of fluency to an estimated 26% in the next generation of students. Ethnobiological knowledge declined in close parallel with language skills. Varied medicinal plant uses known to the students speaking indigenous languages are replaced by a few, mostly nonnative species for the students speaking English or Tok Pisin, the national lingua franca. Most (88%) students want to teach indigenous language to their children. While crucial for keeping languages alive, this intention faces powerful external pressures as key factors (education, cash economy, road networks, and urbanization) associated with language attrition are valued in contemporary society.

Item ID: 70354
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1091-6490
Keywords: Biocultural diversity, Ethnobiology, Language attrition, Language endangerment, Papua New Guinea
Copyright Information: This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2022 03:30
Downloads: Total: 58
Last 12 Months: 58
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page