Papua New Guinean students in school uniforms and traditional costumes. Photo: George Weiblen

Even in the world’s most linguistically diverse nation, indigenous languages and skills are yielding to the march of urbanization, a cash economy, road networks, and higher education that are part and parcel of globalization.

The island nation of Papua New Guinea is home to more than 9 million people speaking about 840 languages—12 percent of the world’s approximately 7,000 languages. It is also the world’s most floristically diverse island, harboring about 5 percent of the world’s plant species.

But a new study by Papua New Guinea native Alfred Kik, a doctoral student at the University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic; UMN researcher George Weiblen, PhD; and colleagues found that a sizable gap in indigenous language fluency has opened up between teenage students and their parents. Along with this decline, the younger generation…

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