By Raukura Hoerara-Smith, Assistant Māori Curator,
He reo e kōrerotia ana, he reo ka ora.
A spoken language is a living language.
Te reo Māori is of great importance to me. My mother and father raised me in a Māori-dominated world, where te reo Māori was my mother tongue. It wasn’t until my last year at intermediate school where I transferred to a mainstream class that I started to adapt myself to a more westernised world.
Today, I feel like every day should be a celebration of our language, wherever we are. I find myself only talking Māori when I’m around kaupapa Māori (environment), which is why I need to challenge myself more to speak the language that was given to me since birth. It is my mission in the future to provide my own children with the same intrinsic values my parents gave to me.
This week we are celebrating Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week). This acknowledges the Māori language as a unique cultural taonga (treasure) for all people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Each year, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) sets a theme for the week, and a range of activities, promotions, and events that encourage the use of te reo Māori. The theme this year, ‘Kia ora te reo Māori’ was selected to honour New Zealand’s indigenous greeting – an exact description aimed for new partnerships for te reo Māori revitalisation between the Crown and Māori under the new Māori Language Act 2016.
As the Māori language started to significantly decrease in the 1970s, Māori language week was used to help create awareness about the revitalisation of our language. I’m writing this blog to give you an insight on this taonga of ours, in the hope that you will be able to take something away with you.
Te reo Māori has had an official language status since 1987 and numerous Māori language revitalisation activities have occurred to date. Despite these efforts, statistics continue to show a decline in the number of Māori language speakers.
The objective of Māori language revitalisation is to re-establish the language in today’s world. I am in support of the idea that Māori language is the heritage language of all citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a cherished taonga that all citizens have a duty to help revitalise. Some see that current trends among the most dominant languages, like English, Mandarin, German and Spanish, have a higher chance of survival than most other languages. Some may see this as a result of globalisation, indicating that languages are forever changing and adapting to the times.
Why should the language be revitalised?
The Māori language is embedded in the geographical naming system of Aotearoa, New Zealand’s cultural heritage and Māori is recognised as the de facto heritage language for all New Zealand citizens (Waitangi Tribunal, 2011). If it does not survive here it will not survive anywhere in the world. For the most part the Māori language is not being passed down through the generations, in homes, neighbourhoods and communities. The Māori language is significant because it is the carrier of the Māori culture as “without it the Māori identity would be fundamentally undermined, as would the very existence of Māori as a distinguished people” (Waitangi Tribunal Report #262, 2010:48). For Māori to exist the Māori language is a key identity indicator.
For a bilingual speaker of Māori language, intergenerational transmission is a key objective. The value of the language is seen to motivate language choice, which promotes a change in language practices. This suggests that the fundamental values and beliefs are transferred from our parents, grandparents or from our social environments. Language value depends on perceptions and choice, illustrating the complex relationship between existing communities. Within these communities, bilingual speakers make their language choice based on the normalised language within a social setting. For example, a speaker has a higher chance of talking on the Marae, where te reo is normalised.
The findings of the Te Paepae Motuhake report, Te Reo Mauriora (2011: 63), identified seven primary values attributed to the Māori language:
- Intrinsic value
- Educational value
- Social value
- Cultural value
- Intellectual value
- Spiritual value
- Monetary value
These seven attributes regulate the attitudes that people have towards the Māori language. A person may decide to move towards, or away from these values. In terms of language acquisition, these values can be overwhelming for some people in learning the language and can have a positive or negative effect on a person depending on their particular position.
The establishment of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori promotes the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal and produces resources that recognise the language as a taonga, more importantly, as intrinsically valuable to Māori. Having said that, the establishment of the Māori Language Act, the discourse surrounding the Māori language continues to resonate a language under threat.
For the Māori language to truly flourish, the government should enact the recommendations of Te Puni Kokiri, and the Waitangi Tribunal language reviews must also be considered. Let us hope that the Māori Language Act will help with the revitalisation of our language so that it can survive for evermore.
Ko tōku reo, tōku ohooho; tōku reo, tōku mapihi maurea; tōku reo, tōku whakakai marihi.
My language is my inspiration, my special gift, my precious treasure.