by John Wagner and Christine Schreyer, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

Schreyer, Christine and John Wagner. 2015. The Kala Language Project: Kala Walo Nua. Written and produced by John Wagner and Christine Schreyer. Edited by Randy Grice. Published online Oct 22, 2015. 47 min. 

The Kala people live in six coastal villages in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. The Kala language is still spoken by a majority of the population, about 2500 people, but like many small language communities in the country, language shift is occurring rapidly and the current generation of young people are shifting away from Kala, as their language of daily use, to the national lingua franca, Tok Pisin. As a result many children are not learning Kala at all, or are acquiring only passive fluency. In this film we document a language revitalization project that began in 2006. Literally translated, the subtitle of the film, Kala Walo Nua, means “Kala one mouth,” but walo, “mouth,” can also be translated as “way of speaking.” This refers to the fact that there are four dialect groups working together to revitalize the language but also to the fact that the Kala people are working ‘as one’ with UBC Okanagan researchers.

We had no intention at the outset of the project to create a documentary film, but we often recorded project events with photographs and video-recordings and as a result, by 2014, we had accumulated a rich archive of visual materials. Rather than simply drawing on these from time to time for use in the classroom or in publications, we realized we could use them to document the entire project. We then hired Randy Grice, a student film-maker, to help us select and edit appropriate visual footage and combine that footage with audio recordings and a narrative script read by Schreyer and Wagner. Given our small budget and the uneven quality of the visual materials available, we were very fortunate to find someone as skilled as Randy with all aspects of film production.

Kala speakers themselves are the primary audience for the film and the film premiere occurred in December 2015 in Kamiali, the Kala village that has served so far as the headquarters for the language project. But given the trilingual nature of the film (English narration, Kala audio clips, Tok Pisin sub-titles), it will be accessible and of interest to other language communities throughout Papua New Guinea and more broadly. It will also be of interest to academic researchers and educators engaged in or embarking on similar projects and who, like us, are collectively engaged in the process of developing and following ‘best practices’ for these kinds of projects.


The film chronicles the birth of the project in 2006, when the Kala Language Committee was created with representatives from all six villages. At that time there was no agreed upon writing system for the language although three villages had established elementary school programs and teachers in each village had created at least rudimentary writing systems. The film documents the creation of a single orthography for all villages and dialects that was formally adopted in 2010, training programs for teachers and community researchers, and the development of school curriculum based on interview recordings focused on cultural narratives and local ecological knowledge.

Additional information about the Kala Language Project can be found at http://christineschreyer.ca/Research.html.


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