Language and decisions
: the Iranun of Sabah, Malaysia

  • Karla Jean Smith

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This study presents the Iranun of Sabah and their efforts to maintain and revitalize their language as they balance the tensions they feel between love for their language and the need to educate their children to succeed in the modern world. It uses a combination of participant observations, questionnaires, interviews and a special children's project to examine the current language situation in order to gain understanding of the factors affecting their language and the decisions they are making regarding their language. 
    The Iranun community, like many others, has unknowingly been in the process of using their own language in fewer and fewer speech domains, while at the same time the younger generations are increasingly using other languages, such as varieties of Malay and English in more walks of life." They are now struggling to raise the status of their language and maintain their culture in the face of great national and international pressures. In this regard they started a language project to develop their previously unwritten language with the long term goal of establishing an education program in their indigenous language. This study includes an up to date progress report of this project and the part it plays in the revitalization efforts. It also states some of the challenges the project faces in its efforts to be sustainable. 
    The study also explores the way in which language use is impacted by group identity, language attitudes and the relationship between leaders and the community. Since intergenerational transmission is extremely important to the survival of the language, the children's project seeks to ascertain the children's Iranun language ability and how it compares with the community's perception of that ability. 
    This study concludes with a discussion showing that the Iranun are motivated by the same basic desires as anyone else; they want their children to succeed and have a better life than their parents. While their language and culture are important to them, these become secondary in their struggle to not be "left behind". 
    Date of AwardJul 2008
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Black (Supervisor) & Brian Devlin (Supervisor)

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