Words and Representations, Port Moresby 1946-48

My approach for the key terms on the volume level was to select terminology that was in common for most of the reports and then a couple of terms that may be of particular interest for the time period such as “Native Compensation for War Damage.” Following is the terms that I used at the volume level:

census; health; hygiene; infrastructure; agriculture; postwar; Native Compensation for War Damage; disease

During the check-up exercise with my partner, my terms differed just slightly. What differed for some of the terms is that, again, I chose terms that were boarder in spectrum to would try to capture recurring themes within all the reports. For example, many of my partner’s reports mentioned different social rituals and so instead of listing each of the different types of rituals/festivities, I suggested to label them under the broader term of “traditions” or “customs.” This broader umbrella terms can capture all the different types of rituals, festivities and other social activities of the different tribes without having to list every single term.

It’s interesting to consider the implications for future audiences because so much of our language is steeped in our own cultural perceptions of the definitions and interpretations of those definitions of words. As we have learned over the course, what one terminology was once considered appropriate will later become inappropriate and will need to be considered for change. For myself, I tried to select words that have a sense of neutrality to them to try to mitigate these issues. But, who knows if 100 years from now other terminology will be considered more apropos or more correct for usage than from what I chose and therefore will need to be changed/altered to accommodate this change in standards.

Then I also think about in the present day and how this information needs to be accessible for all; especially, for the PNG peoples. I try to think if this information will be easily accessible for them with the terms I used. But, because I don’t know too much about PNG society and the way their culture uses linguistics, I have to rely on the fact that their education is based on the Australian English language AND that it is hopefully very similar to American English language. Sure, we may have the same words (because it is English) but how we use them may be different and that adds another layer of possible complications to labelling not only the reports but the subjects and subject matter of these reports. That is why I believe that it is imperative that we pair up with the people of PNG to cross check/reference these terms (and database) to make sure that accessibility is easily acquired by them since it about them and their history. Leaving the terminology up to us for sole determination only perpetuates the western colonial attitudes that our languages and practices are more “right” or “valuable,” which is counter to the process of decolonialism in this post-colonial time.


PNG Patrol Report: Central District, Port Moresby, 1946-1948

5 Comments Add yours

  1. You demonstrated a very interesting perspective of the implications for your choice of terms, and delved deeply into how Western representation can automatically carry its own embedded bias! I agree that language is a constantly-evolving subject, and as a literature major this fascinates me and I wish it was analyzed by more people in the way that you looked into it. Your approach to choosing terms was similar to mine, where you began more pointed and then made terms that were broad enough to incorporate into the entire volume, and I agree that this type of streamlining is a measured and efficient means of selecting terms.

  2. Rachel Hicks says:

    Vidal, you raise an excellent point about the benefits of pairing up with representatives from PNG to discuss if the words we use are appropriate. I would love to see that happen longterm. I wonder if we could create a place for submission of appropriately (and inappropriately) used terms. Your use of starting big and working smaller also increases accessibility to your findings. You discuss the idea of ritual in your writing, but that isn’t a key term you chose. Was that one you included on a report level, instead of volume level?

    1. VIDAL ESPINA says:


      The rituals suggestion was something I made to Rukmini who had this in her reports. I don’t believe I have any ritual descriptions, or even mentions, in my reports but of course I’m only human and I may have accidentally overlooked them. I’ll see if I can find time to go over all the reports with a fine tooth comb to see if I have any ritual descriptions on my reports.

      1. Rachel Hicks says:

        Hi Vidal, I think I misread your post. I thought that ritual was something in your reports and was surprised it wasn’t a key term. There is no need to search for something that isn’t there unless you think it is important!

  3. JIA LI says:

    As your partner for studying Port Moresby, I find your blog post very fascinating. I think we have used the same way of choosing and narrowing down the key terms, which is, use a broad term to generalise the words related to it. However, i also think the key terms chosen were too fouced and too narrow, I don’t know whether you think it is a problem too. Anyway, I also think you are very thoughtful in considering the possible issues that may happen in the future with today’s word and representation.

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