A Death in the Rainforest: How a Language and a Way of Life Came to an End in Papua New Guinea

Algonquin. Jun. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9781616209049. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616209476. ANTHRO
How does a language die? Some anthropologists theorize that a language may fall out of style with a population or become forgotten over time. Kulick (anthropology, Uppsala Univ., Sweden) suggests that the reasons for language death are both much more complex and simpler to understand. Over the course of three decades, Kulick visited the Papua New Guinea village of Gapun and studied their fading Tayap language. Kulick strives to display his research by telling the villagers’ story in a way that shows their humanity and explaining the impact foreign forces throughout history have had on Tayap. His stories of adjusting to daily life in the village are both humorous and compassionate. Throughout his time working in Gapun, he is distinctly aware of the field of anthropology’s conflicting eras of practice, from its colonialist past up to the highly culturally sensitive present. Kulick allows his research to reveal his own cultural bias and acknowledge his privilege; in doing so, he details the reasons that support his theory as to why languages die in a manner that shows strong social responsibility and fairness.
VERDICT Recommended for a readership of varying ages, from young adults with an interest in cultural anthropology to college students and academics.
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