ko te reo he moa?

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Information from the Waitangi Tribunal Report 262 has been released regarding the state of the te reo Maaori, the Maori language … and the news is doom-laden.

Despite the early achievements of the kohanga reo (language nest) movement founded in the 1980s to reverse language shift and revitalise the language as a taonga or treasure given full protection under the treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi, the number of speakers of the language is still falling.

Since 1993, the proportion of Māori children in early childhood education attending kōhanga reo has dropped from just under half to under a quarter. At school, the proportion of Māori children participating in Māori-medium education has dropped from a high point of 18.6 per cent in 1999 to 15.2 per cent in2009. The total number of schoolchildren in Māori-medium learning has dropped each successive year since 2004. If the peak proportions of the 1990s had been maintained, there would today be 9,600 more Māori children attending kōhanga reo and an extra 5,700 Māori schoolchildren learning via the medium of te reo. At the 2006 census, there were 8,000 fewer Māori conversational speakers of te reo than there would have been had the 2001 proportion been maintained.
pg, X. Waitangi Report 262.

This worrying trend is a disaster for language maintenance of this, one of the two national languages of New Zealand. The report points the finger at the government, suggesting failures in two areas.  These are the failure to train teachers for immersion programmes and the weak powers of the Maori Language Commision/Maori Language Strategy . Proposals to halt this downard spiral for te reo focus on the role of Te Taura Whiti the Maaori Language Commission. The report suggests this become the key player in the development of te reo Maaori, with increased funding and increased powers.

The full prepublication report is available here.

The Dominion Post’s coverage of this issue was intriguing. Alongside a summary of the report, the newspaper published vox populi on the issue of compulsory te reo training.  Not only were their opinions recorded but also their score on recognising 7 Maori words: huamanu ‘egg’ panana ‘banana’, pahi ‘bus’, huarere, ‘weather’ mana ‘prestige/authority’ koha ‘gift’ and atua ‘god’. While an interesting idea, the list of a mix of transliterated borrowings, cultural important concepts and some relatively low frequency items. There are plenty of more salient Maaori words that are also used in NZ English.

Here are the comments and their scores:

  • 0/7 I think it is should be compulsory in. My wife’s a Kiwi and part-Maori and I think it’s important that our daughter learns the Maori language” (Non_NZ born male, 32)
  • 0/7 believes it should be compulsory. It’s part of the culture of the country it makes a bond between the different ethnicities of the country. (Non_NZ born female, 47)
  • 3/7 I’m not against the Maori language, but it should be a choice.” (M, 58)
  • 4/7 thinks Mandarin should be compulsory instead. (F, 67)
  • 5/7 should be compulsory. “So that all the little kids grow up and get to know their language because it’s harder to learn when you are older. (M, 19)
  • 2/7 I do think that te reo is important but I do not think it should be taught at the same level as English (F, 48)
  • 2/7 feels it should be compulsory. It’s good to keep up the New Zealand language and it doesn’t hurt to have a smattering of languages. It doesn’t matter whether we can converse at the marae, it is important to have some level of understanding. (F, 77)
  • 3/7 It should be optional, because if it is a choice, the those who really want to learn will make the commitment. But I do think there’s quite a spread of people who want to learn but don’t know how. People need to be made more aware of where they can go to learn [te reo]. (M, 55).
  • Dominion Post, Thursday 21 October, 2010, p. A2.
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