Congressman Faleomavaega was invited to be a keynote speaker at the International Samoan Language Commission Conference held in Carson, California on December 11, 2003. In a paper he presented at the conference entitled The Critical Need for a Bilateral Samoan Language Institute to be Established by the Governments of Samoa and American Samoa, Faleomavaega presented his thoughts about the Samoan language and also laid out a formula for the establishment of a Samoan language Institute.
“The time has come for Samoa and American Samoa to establish a major initiative at the highest levels of government to provide for the cultivation, protection, and revitalization of the Samoan language,” Congressman Faleomavaega told the conference participants. “Language is central to defining who we are. Language is the way we share our deepest systems of belief. Language is the root of our cultural rituals, our spiritual beliefs, a way of thinking, growing, enduring, and continuing. The breath, the life of the Samoan culture, lies in its language.”
“While others may disagree,” the Congressman said, “I believe a Samoan Language Institute should be established as a matter of law so that there is official recognition of its decisions when questions are raised on matters of spelling, grammar, terminology, and transliteration. It is also critically important that both government entities should appropriate the necessary funds for the operation of the Institute.”
“About five years ago, with the support of the American Samoa Community College and Senator Faiivae, I was able to secure more than $100,000 in federal funds for the purpose of preserving the Samoan language and I am pleased that President Bush is now recognizing and supporting our efforts. I am also pleased that the conference organizers accepted my recommendation to invite Dr. William Eggington to participate and speak at this year’s conference and I am grateful that the Faleomavaega Community Service Foundation was able to provide for the costs of his travel.”
“Dr. Eggington is an internationally recognized Professor of Linguistics who is known for his work in making sure that indigenous languages do not die. He has spent extensive time working with the Australian Aboriginal community, the New Zealand Maoris, Native Americans and, in the early to mid nineties, he conducted research in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and Kiribati.”
“In his speech before the International Samoan Language Commission, Dr. Eggington talked about how language can shift and how language shift can lead to language death. He also talked about ways to reverse language shift to make sure that the Samoan language remains a strong link among the peoples of Samoa,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“First and foremost, Dr. Eggington suggested that English should be taught as a foreign language. Two, governmental operations should be conducted in Samoan. Three, the local work sphere should function in Samoan and Native English speakers should learn to speak Samoan in order to function in a Samoan society. Four, he noted that public schools for Samoan children offer some instruction in Samoan but much of the curriculum is designed to foster English proficiency instead of Samoan proficiency. To reverse this shift, he suggested that we develop a curriculum to help Samoans read and write in Samoan and conduct all other schooling in English.”
“He also pointed out that the only people functioning in Samoan are the older generation and that Samoan is mostly spoken in the home, family and villages. All other sectors of the community function in English. This is a threshold stage and if language shift is not reversed, it is almost a guarantee that the Samoan language will be lost.”
“This is why it is my sincere hope that the governments of Samoa and American Samoa will establish a bilateral Samoan Language Institute,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Such an institute should be established with our own people who have the highest level of expertise and academic credentials along with those who have tremendous depth in understanding our traditions and culture relative to the usage of Samoan words. This Commission would be tasked with the most difficult responsibility of serving as the official governing body to make sure that the Samoan language does not die.”
“I would hope that within the next two years, the Samoan Language Institute would be established with the necessary staff and funds to be provided by both governments. I will also continue my efforts to seek federal funds in addition to the $100,000 we have already obtained for this project. I am hopeful that as we coordinate our efforts and resources we will develop successful strategies for reversing language shift and continue our work for the benefit of the Samoan people now and for generations to come,” the Congressman concluded.
A full text of Congressman Faleomavaega’s and Dr. William Eggington’s conference papers can be found online at http://www.house.gov/faleomavaega.