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The Plurilingual School in the Communities of the Pacific

International Seninar : 18 – 27 octobre 2010 - Nouméa – New Caledonia


The Pacific region contains approximately two thousand languages, one third of the languages spoken in the world. Certain island states in the region exhibit a strong ethno-linguistic homogeneity and have a small proportion of foreign-born and minority language speaking groups (Tonga, Samoa…). But in most of the communities of the Pacific, sociolinguistic situations are very complex, with a great deal of indigenous linguistic diversity, especially in Melanesia, and a significant contribution from populations of diverse origins who arrived and settled during the colonial and contemporary periods.

All of these communities have English or French, the languages of former colonisers, as an official language and the main language of education (both English and French for Vanuatu; Easter Island, a special territory of Chile, is the exception with Spanish). The linguistic heterogeneity of contemporary populations favours the use of these languages, or of a contact language which derives from them (Bislama, Tok Pisin…), as a lingua franca.

Nevertheless, Oceanians remain attached to their languages of origin as markers of identity and vectors of cultural heritage. Indeed, throughout Oceania, following the emergence of sovereignty movements in the 1970s, the recognition of indigenous languages in schools has been enshrined in legislation.

The education systems of these communities are seeking an efficient balance between, on one hand, the pressing need for integration into globalised development and alignment with international educational standards in order to facilitate social and professional mobility, and, on the other hand, the desire to preserve and pass on local languages and cultures (Mugler, Lynch, 1996 ; Vernaudon, Fillol, 2009). This desire is part of the emergence of a more global awareness of the richness but also the precariousness of the Earth’s biocultural diversity (Skutnabb-Kangas, Maffi, Harmon, 2003).

International scientific research in the domain of bilingualism tends to foreground the effects of the reciprocal transfer of competencies acquired between the mother tongue and the second language. Meta-analyses of bilingual education programmes that have been undertaken agree on their positive impact (Cummins, Corson, 1997; Greene,1997; Bialystok, 2001). Equivalent results have been reproduced in New Caledonia and French Polynesia (Nocus, Guimard, Florin, 2009). However, it is important that further experimental validations be undertaken in different sociolinguistic contexts.








 
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