Publication Details

Ward, R. (2019). 'National' and 'Official' Languages of the Independent Asia-Pacific. Portal: journal of multidisciplinary international studies, 16 (1-2), 82-100.


In November 2018 New Caledonians went to the polls to vote on whether the French territory should become an independent state. In accordance with the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord between Kanak pro-independence leaders and the French government, New Caledonians will have the opportunity to vote on the same issue again in 2020 and should they vote for independence, a new state will emerge. In another part of Melanesia, the people of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB) will vote on 23 November 2019 on whether to secede from Papua New Guinea and form an independent state. With the possibility of two new independent states in the Pacific, the possible political and economic consequences of a vote for independence have attracted attention but little consideration has been paid to the question of which languages might be used or adopted should either territory, or both, choose independence. This article explores the question of language choice, specifically whether in several decolonized countries in the Asia-Pacific a choice has been made to designate 'national' and / or 'official languages or not. It first examines the concepts of 'national' and 'official' languages of a select number of independent countries in order to consider the possible linguistic configurations which could eventuate should residents of New Caledonia and/or Bougainville vote for independence. It then surveys how national and official languages are adopted by states post-independence, and how this relates to concepts of national identity. It returns to consider the linguistic options for New Caledonia and Bougainville, should they choose to become independent.



Link to publisher version (DOI)