The Extinction of Language in West Papua

Language in West Papua
Sumber : The Ecologist

At the 2020 International Mother Language Day event, Head of the Language Agency of the Ministry of Education and Culture Dadang Sunendar stated that there are currently 11 extinct regional languages ​​in Indonesia. Those languages are Tandia (West Papua language), Mawes (Papuan) language, Kajeli/Kayeli (Maluku) language, Piru (Maluku) language, Moksela (Maluku), Palumata (Maluku) language, Ternateno (North Maluku), Legal language (Maluku), Hoti (Maluku) language, Serua Language (Maluku), and the Indigo (Maluku) language.

The number of speakers of 384 regional languages ​​in Papua and West Papua Provinces is decreasing. The number of speakers of most regional languages ​​in these provinces is only 100 – 500 people per regional language, making it more challenging to preserve local languages.

A young researcher at the Papua Language Center, Yohanes Sanjoko, explained that the number of regional languages in Papua and West Papua Provinces had reached 384 languages. Of the 384 regional languages, 290 regional languages ​​were identified in Papua and 94 regional languages in West Papua. Most of the regional languages ​​in Papua have very few speakers, ranging from only 100 to 500 people.

Language in West Papua
Sumber : Pinterest

The Risk of Language Extinction in West Papua

Yohanes stated that most of the regional languages ​​in Papua are classified as “prone to extinction” because they only have 100-500 speakers. In fact, UNESCO classifies four language endangerment such as:

  • Vulnerable: A language that is not spoken by the children
  • Definitely endangered: Children do not speak the language
  • Severely endangered: Only the oldest generation who speaks the language
  • Critically endangered: Only a few people who speak the language

In the file entitled Language vitality and endangerment, UNESCO lists the factor to determine language extinction:

  1. Intergenerational language transmission
  2. Absolute number of speakers
  3. Proportion of speakers existing within the total (global) population
  4. Language use within existing contexts and domains
  5. Response to language use in new domains and media
  6. Availability of materials for language education and literacy
  7. Government and institutional language policies
  8. Community attitudes toward their language
  9. Amount and quality of documentation

The thing that causes a regional language to become extinct is the decrease in the speaker number. The causes of this decrease include natural disasters, urban life in urban areas, or the widespread use of the lingua franca, such as the use of Indonesian in various regions of Papua.


How the Government Act Regarding the Threat of Language Extinction

To decrease the extinction of regional languages, the government holds five main programs through the Language Development and Development Agency (Badan Bahasa) of the Ministry of Education and Culture (Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan)

Those five main programs are as follow:

  • Language and Literature Mapping
  • Study of the Vitality of Language and Literature
  • Language and Literature Conservation
  • Revitalization of Language and Literature
  • Map and Registration of Online Language and Literature.

After mapping endangered languages, Badan Bahasa will then dispatch researchers to comb cities or areas identified as endangered from hundreds of existing regional languages.

The cooperation between the central government and local governments to protect the language is by the mandate of Law Number 24 of 2009 concerning the State Flag, Language, and Emblem and the National Anthem. In the law, article 41 states that the government is obliged to develop, foster, and protect the Indonesian language and literature from continuing fulfilling its position and function in society, nation, and state, by the times. 

Then in article 42, it is stated that the regional government is obliged to develop, foster, and protect regional languages ​​and literature so that they continue to fulfill their position and function in social life following the times and remain part of the cultural wealth of Indonesia.

In Indonesia, the government has an obligation to protect the endangered language, including the traditional language in West Papua. It’s necessary to preserve the traditional language. West Papua language symbolizes the culture, the tradition, and the characteristics of the West Papua people.