Fewer speak Maori, census shows

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013

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The landscape of language is changing in Taranaki.

The latest census data, released yesterday, shows the number of Te Reo speakers in Taranaki has dropped, despite an increase in the number of people identifying as Maori.

Alongside this decrease the number of people able to speak a foreign language has risen, and for some overseas languages it has more than doubled.

Since the 2006 census, more than 2300 extra people in Taranaki have ticked the "Maori" ethnicity box, but while there are now 18,165 Maori people in Taranaki not all of them are speaking the language.

In fact, fewer are speaking New Zealand's native tongue.

During the past seven years the number of Maori-speaking people in Taranaki's 109,608 person population has dropped from 3939 people, to 3852.

Ruakere Hond, who has a masters in Maori studies, is a former Maori language commissioner and has been teaching Te Reo since the 1980s, said the state of language in Taranaki should not be judged solely by numbers.

He said since 2006 peoples' idea of conversational Maori had changed.

What may have been considered enough to "tick the box" in 2006, was now not enough.

The standard of Maori language was continually getting higher, he said, and those speaking it in Taranaki had become far more proficient at using it in the community.

"The real question with the census data is, how well are people using the language they can speak?

"Are they taking a course and shelving their qualification or are they using the language daily?

"Our numbers have not gone dramatically down, which is good because a lot of hard work has been done, but we have a lot of work ahead of us too," he said.

While Te Reo numbers slightly slipped, the number of people in Taranaki able to speak the native tongue of other countries rose.

The sounds of Afrikaans, Hindi, and Tagalog in Taranaki have soared since the last census.

In 2006 156 people in the province could speak Tagalog. Now more than 500 people can have a conversation in the Filipino language.

The increase of 360 was because of emigration, Edna Wilson, secretary of the Taranaki Filipino Society said.

She has been in New Zealand for 30 years and said she had noticed a marked increase in the number of people arriving here from her home country.

"Most of them come to work for Telecom or Transfield Worley. They move here for work," she said.

The society members speak their native tongue, along with other dialects, when they meet for events and special occasions.

"It's good to keep our language and culture alive," she said.

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The change in languages spoken in Taranaki should come as no surprise, given the varied ethnicities increasing within the region.

The latest figures show about 12.8 per cent of Taranaki's population was born overseas.

The number of people who indicated they are of Asian ethnicity increased 66.9 per cent since 2006.

While the 2006 census tallied about 13,000 people identifying as a "New Zealander" in the "other" category of ethnicity, the latest census had only about 2000 people tick the same box.

The census results also show Taranaki had one of the largest national increases in incomes.

The median in Taranaki for people aged 15 years and over increased 25.4 per cent, to $29,100. This is the fourth-largest regional increase.

While the median income increased more have joined those in the highest salary bracket.

Since 2006 an extra 2223 people in Taranaki have entered the $100,001+ income bracket.

There are now 4590 people in the province who earn over $100,001 a year in personal income.

Venture Taranaki boss, Stuart Trundle said the growth of the higher-income figures was a positive reflection of Taranaki as a driver of the national economy.

Despite celebrating the success, Mr Trundle was quick to look towards Taranaki's next census.

"We have to remain mindful of our ageing population, which in Taranaki is a little higher than the national average, and look at opportunities to keep the skills and experience of our older citizens feeding back into the business and broader communities," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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