Tammy Kingi-Falakoa

Linguistics and Pacific Studies student Tammy Kingi-Falakoa is recipient of the inaugural 2010 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Inspiration and talks about her passion to save the Niuean language.

cp-tammy-kingi-falakoa
Tammy Kingi-Falakoa

This has been a great year for me: finishing my degree, being elected President for AUPISA (Auckland University Pacific Island Student Association); and now receiving the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award has just topped it off.

I am currently embarking on a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts after completing my Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics and Pacific Studies at The University of Auckland.

Initially I took my first linguistics paper as a General Education paper in my second year. I really enjoyed it, and down at the Pacific Studies Centre I met a Tongan linguist, Dr Melenaite, who really fully inspired me. I thought: “Hey I love this. She is doing this for Tonga. Why can’t I do the same for Niue?”

During my studies I heard another Tongan lecturer speak. She told a seminar that research showed it was already too late to save the Niuean language from dying out. I strongly disagreed but it inspired me to prove her wrong so I have taken up that challenge.

I’ve continued with linguistics for the pure reason that the Niuean language is endangered. I think a good way to get to the bottom of it is to find out the science of it. I understand all the phonetics and morphologic explanations for words and so I can start from there and see if we can help to maintain our mother tongue and continue the legacy of our Matua Tupuna.

In the interview for the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Inspiration I was asked how I would contribute towards the Award. So that was my angle — language survival and maintenance. If I can create a model that will work for Niue then I will be able to replicate the process for other endangered Pacific languages.

It is such an honour to receive The Prime Minister’s Youth Awards for Inspiration. It’s a really great opportunity, providing me with $5000 for overseas travel to the Pacific region. In my area of study I think it would be most effective to go to Niue, though I would be comfortable going anywhere in the Pacific. I would like look at how language is taught in schools around the Pacific communities to see if we can apply their theories and teachings to our own.

English is often the first language for many Niuean families living in New Zealand. It is not necessarily my generation that doesn’t speak it – there are also many people in my parents’ generation. It is saddening that the importance of maintaining our language is not discussed more. You can’t just force the language on the youth. You need to let them acquire it, and help them acquire it by speaking it yourself.

Last semester I took a socio-linguistics paper. I based my studies on Pacific code-switching and pragmatics. There’s no research in specific Niue linguistics and little on Pacific linguistics in general to reference my work so my supervisor had a lot of difficulty in marking.

Maybe, if that Tongan lecturer is right and it is too late (and I am not saying that she is right), then it is not too late to create the literature and research for future generations to use.

I am excited to be given this opportunity to serve my community.

Monu Tu Tagaloa e Mafola, Kia fakamonunina mai he atua kehe ha tautolu a tau gahua pihia foki kehe fakapulou ne foaki mai e ia kia tautolu oti, kitu kitu kitu ea!