Grim outlook for te reo Maori
A leading expert warns te reo Maori is at risk of becoming nothing more than a "ceremonial language".
Research by AUT history professor Paul Moon released in his new book Ka Ngaro Te Reo tracks the factors that led to New Zealand's indigenous language nearly becoming a lost tongue.
However Moon says this story could easily have a bad ending.
"If we use the analogy [of] a patient then Te Reo Maori is on life support. The heart might still be beating and blood is still pumping but the prognosis is pretty grim," he says.
"It's in a very bad state as there's so few native speakers and a lot of societal pressure not to speak te reo Maori."
The West Harbour resident says the "ceremonial use" of the language is creating a false public perception of stability.
"People think if Maori words crop up in English it is in a strong position, but it's not. That's just what English does, it doesn't advance a language, it just takes from it."
The decline of the Maori language began in the 19th century from the considerable shift in population as a direct result of European migration.
Early settlers were fluent in the language and many missionary schools taught exclusively in Maori.
However successive governments strictly enforced the use of English on a new emerging society.
"About 5 per cent of the population in the whole country decided the language of commerce, law and legislation would be English," Moon says.
Although there are ongoing efforts to preserve the Maori language today, Moon says we are looking in the wrong places.
"The motives are critical. Driving the link between the language and having some intrinsic value is key.
"When we talk about language in schools it's not uncommon for parents to say, 'I don't want my child to learn te reo because it won't help them get a job'."
Moon says the situation rides on the Government drafting legislation and policy to promote speaking Maori in the public sector.
"There needs to be some formal benefit to learning the language."
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