Pacific voices: ‘Are Samoans starting to talk to a phone – not people?’

Samoa's Consul General Faaolotoi Reupena Pogi ​opening the Samoan language debate. Image: AUT
Auckland University of Technology’s annual Samoan Language Week debate – that “technology will be the death of Samoan language” (o le a liu efuefu le ala le gagana ona o le faatekonolosi)  – was enjoyed by a large and vocal group at AUT’s South Campus last week.

The two teams comprised a mix of AUT students and community members with AUT researcher Salā Fa’asaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota as the chair.

“This topic really hit a nerve,” says Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop.

She adds that everyone has a personal view- from Samoa’s Consul-General Faaolotoi Reupena Pogi who was guest of honour, to the many teachers, students, government department staff community members and other Samoan language experts in attendance at the event.

“The debate arguments have opened many eyes to the fact that the increased use of IT such as cell phones, Facebook is influencing Samoan language maintenance” she says.

“However, and not so well understood, is that this is also influencing the quality of our family life including how we relate to each other.”

She repeats the challenge raised by an affirmative team member – “Are Samoans starting to talk to a phone – not to people?”

Taking care over technology
While the negative team won the 2016 trophy, both teams were in agreement that while technology is crucial, care must also be taken to ensure technology is used to advance and promote the Samoan language.

Judge Fa’atili Iosua Esera, president of the Association of Samoan language teachers in New Zealand (FAGASA), praised the debate members for the quality of their preparation and arguments which featured a mix of Samoan understandings and current research and for “the absolutely beautiful oratory and the many little touches of Samoan humour” which Fa’atili said, “also reinforced the seriousness of the message.”

AUT’s annual tradition of hosting this debate has again brought the community together, says Tagaloatele.

While the debate has been an excellent start to Samoan Language Week and to the celebration of Samoa’s Independence, it has also provided considerable food for thought, “especially to the many who almost guiltily reached down during the debate and turned off their cell phones,” says Tagaloatele.

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