Editorial: Te reo's parent figures must learn to let go

Last updated 05:00 01/11/2012
tereo stand
Te Reo has been translated for some words used in Facebook.

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OPINION: A recent National Geographic magazine article documented the perilous state of some of the world's languages.

It revealed that during the past 500 years, an estimated half of the languages used around the globe had become extinct. Vanished.

And linguistic experts predicted many more would follow, with something like 500 distinct tongues wagged by fewer than 10 people.

One of the main problems is that these precious dialects are being allowed to wither on an ageing vine. If they are not taught to or used by the young, then the language is doomed.

Which is why it is so perplexing that the Maori Language Commission should be so put out that te reo has made its way into that youthful organ of communication, Facebook.

Rather than be pleased that a language facing its own vanishing point has been so successfully resurrected that it is seen as a viable form of communication in social media's highest strata, the commission has objected to Maori being set loose on the information super-highway.

A commission spokeswoman even suggested that adopting "unofficial" translations for use on Facebook could "put the language in danger".

"This is how things get out of hand," she said, noting that Facebook had bypassed "approved authority for signing of new words".

But in moving to protect its perceived intellectual property rights on all things te reo, the commission has dramatically missed the point.

The "coining" of new Maori words to embrace new technology strengthens the legitimacy of the language rather than undermines it.

Brings it to life in a modern, youthful context in the same way that the words "Facebook", "Twitter" and the verb "google" confirm the vitality of the English language and its relevance to modern living. And not just within a small, isolated community.

Speakers of Illu in Indonesia, Kallawaya in Bolivia and Magati Ke in Australia doubtless have no words to express the concept of Facebook, but that is probably because the small number who use these three languages are old and their mother tongues will soon and sadly follow them to the grave.

Maori had to fight to save their language from the onslaught of colonisation and deplorable cultural indifference delivered by the cold, brutal theory of economies of scale.

Organisations such as the Maori Language Commission played a vital role as guardians of tradition and arbiters of cultural reverence. And that role remains unfinished.

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They are one of many parents to a language reborn, a tongue loosened. But as parents they must now have faith in the strict upbringing of their tamariki; they must accept that their progeny must make their own way in a world filled with threat and promise.

And they must let go.

Even if, as parents know, that can be scary and painful.

- Taranaki Daily News

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