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In this research we investigate reports by the Kakabai Translation Committee and others that some Kakabai speakers are unable to use Kakabai print materials in the variety chosen for development (Takwatakwai). The purpose of the survey was to clarify these reports and determine why Takwatakwai-variety literacy materials are difficult to use.
Kakabai is an Austronesian language spoken in mainland Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Findings from the survey show that sociolinguistic attitudes, orthographic differences, or literacy skills are not causes of reported difficulty. Rather, difficulty is caused by linguistic variation in the form of regular sound changes and alternate lexical items which differentiate the Kakabai variety spoken in each main village. Teachers in Boilave, the village with the most linguistically different variety, find that young children have not yet acquired good intelligibility of the Takwatakwai variety. Since children are the target audience for many of the literacy materials, and Boilave children have difficulty using them, the Boilave teachers are requesting alternate-variety materials. The linguistic differences are not as great as expected, however, and there is consensus among the Kakabai villages that Takwatakwai is the best variety for overall development. The villages all value the unity created by having shared language development. We therefore recommend adherence to the standard variety in all Kakabai schools. The teachers in Boilave could develop initial primers in the Boilave variety and bridging materials, if necessary, to help their students.