11. 06. 12. - 14:41
Stephen Wurm lecture
The University of Vienna will be hosting a seminar entitled "Governance and State Building in Small States: Pacific and European Perspectives" on 3 July 2012.
Australian linguist, Professor Darrell Tryon, will deliver the "Stephen Wurm Lecture", which is an initiative to formally mark the link between the Australian National University and the University of Vienna, with the aim of enhancing scholarly collaboration between Australia and Austria.
Professor Darrell Tryon is one of Australia’s most renowned scholars in the field of linguistics. He will be speaking at the University of Vienna holding a lecture entitled "Language and Society: Challenges in Governance and State Building in Small Pacific States" on 3 July. The seminar will be co-hosted by the University of Vienna, the Australian National University (ANU), the Australian Embassy, the New Zealand Embassy, and the Austrian South Pacific Society (OSPG). In addition to Prof. Tryon, speakers at the seminar will include Prof. Dr. Hermann Mückler, University of Vienna, Prof. Paul Turnbull, University of Queensland, as well as Mr Predrag Jurekovic, Austrian Defence Academy, who will be talking about examples of governance and state building from the Balkans. The Austrialian Embassy in Vienna interviewed Prof Tryon to learn more about his forthcoming lecture and the background and history of the Stephen Wurm lecture.
Professor Tryon, can you please elaborate on the title of your lecture?
In my paper I will be concentrating mainly on the three Pacific Island states of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, three island states which have been characterised by political instability and major problems of governance over the past two decades or so. The major thrust of the presentation will be to attempt to explain the multiplicity, diversity and social organisation of these micro-cosmic Pacific societies, where more than 20 per cent of the world’s languages are spoken.
What would you say are the main challenges when it comes to language in state building and governance in post-conflict societies, and can you briefly explain to our European readers what the term "wantok" means and what it stands for?
The major challenges emanate from the fact that in this region one’s primary identity and loyalty is strongly linked to one’s mother tongue, thus the term "wantok" (one language). A looser but still strong bond exists with one’s home island (or region in the case of Papua New Guinea), while the concept of nation is a much looser one. Intergroup rivalry and the traditional ways of achieving "big-man" or leadership status make nation-building and stable parliamentary democracy difficult, especially in view of the low literacy and educational levels that prevail in these small island states. In reality, the term "wantok" means primarily one’s kinsmen, but extends to include all who speak the same language or dialect and can be considered part of the same broad social group. Rightly or wrongly, the "wantok" system is blamed for all sorts of abuses of patronage, nepotism and corruption in Melanesian societies. This is very much an over-simplification, as there are strong social obligations towards one’s family, clan and social group which are often at odds with Western mores. As traditional Melanesian societies are impacted by the forces of globalisation and twentyfirst century technologies, these societies are gradually changing as Western ideas and economies assume increasing prominence.
Do you think that Western modes of governance can easily be transferred to states in the Pacific region?
This question has been the subject of much discussion. Many observers and scholars are of the opinion that Western systems of governance are ill-adapted and inappropriate for Pacific states, especially in the region of Melanesia. However, a modified version of the Westminster parliamentary system was implanted in most states at the time of independence (Samoa 1962, Fiji 1970, Papua New Guinea 1975, Solomon Islands 1978, Vanuatu 1980) and has survived in spite of the problems of instability associated with party politics in an area of the world where fragmentation and tenuous coalitions have become a way of life.
Are there any lessons learned that you think can be transferred from the Asia Pacific region to other post-conflict situations in the world?
At present, in view of the ongoing fragmentation of major parties and constant instability of governments throughout Melanesia, it is difficult to see how current Pacific systems of governance could be profitably transferred from the Asia-Pacific region to other postconflict situations in the world. Even in the francophone Pacific, Melanesia and Polynesia, changes of government have become increasingly frequent.
At this year’s seminar we will have the particular pleasure of welcoming Anna Appel, the sister of Stephen Wurm, who still lives in Vienna. Can you tell us about Stephen Wurm and his achievements, and about the objectives of the Stephen Wurm lectures?
Stephen Wurm (1922-2001) was Professor of Linguistics in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University from 1968 until his retirement in 1987. He was born in Budapest and was brought up mainly in Vienna, where he attended the Real-Gymnasium. In 1944 he was awarded his doctorate in linguistics and social anthropology at the University of Vienna for a dissertation on a group of Uzbek dialects, based on data from informants whom the fortunes of war had brought to Austria. From 1945 to 1951 Wurm taught at the University of Vienna as a lecturer in Altaic linguistics. After a period at Oxford, Stephen Wurm and his wife Helen moved to Australia in 1954, first to the University of Sydney and in 1957 to the Australian National University in Canberra, where he remained for the rest of his life. Stephen Wurm was an outstanding linguist, one of a handful of scholars who shaped the direction of linguistic research in the Pacific in the decades after World War II. His major contributions were in establishing the nature and classification of the languages of Papua New Guinea, particularly the Papuan languages of the interior. In the early 1960s he set up and headed the major publication series Pacific Linguistics. Some 500 volumes have appeared under its imprint. In the later stages of his career he became the greatest linguistic cartographer of all. His first atlas (co-edited with Shiro Hattori) was the two-volume Linguistic Atlas of the Pacific Area (1981-83). He went on to mastermind four other linguistic atlases, including the two-volume Linguistic Atlas of China (1988, 1991) and the three-volume "Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific", "Asia and the Americas" (1995), co-edited with Peter Muhlhausler and Darrell Tryon. The last atlas that Stephen produced was the smaller "Atlas of Languages in Danger of Disappearing", first produced for UNESCO in the 1990s and substantially revised in 2001.
The Stephen Wurm Lecture series was initiated as part of the Pacific Seminar in Vienna in 2010. The objectives are to formally mark the link between the Australian National University and the University of Vienna and to enhance scholarly collaboration between the two institutions, and more broadly between Australia and Austria.