ISSN: 2625-378X


Technology in Support of Languages of The Pacific: Neo-Colonial or Post-Colonial?

Nick Thieberger

ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL 5 (2020)     pp: 17-24     2020-06-30

Stichworte/keywords: Technology support, Metropolitan language, Pacific region, Traditional cultural expression

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Thieberger, N. (2020). Technology in Support of Languages of The Pacific: Neo-Colonial or Post-Colonial?. ASIAN-EUROPEAN MUSIC RESEARCH JOURNAL, 5 , 17-24. doi:10.30819/aemr.5-3
doi = {10.30819/aemr.5-3},
url = {},
year = 2020,
publisher = {Logos Verlag Berlin},
volume = {5},
pages = {17-24},
author = {Nick Thieberger},
title = {Technology in Support of Languages of The Pacific: Neo-Colonial or Post-Colonial?},

The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) has been digitising recordings of traditional cultural expression, oral tradition, and music (TCE) for 17 years. A major motivation for this work is the return of these recordings to where they were made. On the one hand there is social justice in preserving records of languages that are under-represented in the internet and cultural institutions, and making them accessible in what can be characterised as a postcolonial restitution of these records. On the other hand, if it is first world academics doing this work, it risks being yet another colonial appropriation of Indigenous knowledge. In this paper I explore some of these issues to help set directions both for our own work, and for future similar projects.

“From ancient times to the present, disquieting use has been made of archival records to establish, document, and perpetuate the influence of power elites.” (Jimerson, 2007: 254).

A quarter of the world’s languages are found in the Pacific. In communities sustained over many hundreds of years by local economies, the globalised world impinges through urbanisation and encroaching metropolitan languages, particularly in media, accelerating language change and language shift. Technology, in the form of computers, digital files, and ways of working with them, is a first world product, access to it is costly, and the interface to it is never in a local language but always in a major metropolitan language. Training and experience in using technology is not easily obtained, leading to a divide between those who are able to use it and those who are consumers of it, typically via expensive internet connections. How can a new kind of archival enterprise “establish, document, and perpetuate” the languages and their speakers, in order to counter what Jimerson calls the influence of power elites.