Tech giants pick up te reo

TECH TE REO: A Waikato University lecturer has helped Microsoft translate the basics of its Windows 8 programme into te reo.
TECH TE REO: A Waikato University lecturer has helped Microsoft translate the basics of its Windows 8 programme into te reo.

Technology giants Microsoft and Google are climbing on board the waka to revive te reo Maori in time for Maori Language Week.

But some say the language is still at risk because people just aren't interested.

Maori tore into the early language initiatives in the 1980s but participation rates have declined in the past decade and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said it was time iwi took a lead role to ensure its survival.

"There has been a drop-off in terms of using the structure that we have created with things like Kura Kaupapa, Kohanga Reo, Puna Reo and things like this for the language," Dr Sharples said. "Others in the community have dropped back a bit on it and the support for te reo Maori has flagged a little bit."

The first waves of Kura Kaupapa students were now into adulthood with children of their own and many of the original supporters of the movement believed the language was safe and had "opted-out".

Census figures showed the number of Maori who reported that they could hold a conversation in te reo was down from 25.3 per cent in 2001 to 23.7 per cent in 2006.

"It's not safe," he said. "All of the people who have dropped their enthusiasm and promoting their families into te reo Maori."

"That's the real trap - that we take it for granted and drop back on our enthusiasm and we are in trouble again."

The Ministry of Maori Affairs Te Puni Kokiri set a new target of 51 per cent of all Maori who could speak te reo by 2028 and Dr Sharples said it would require a "full-on attack" with government support.

Meanwhile, Microsoft New Zealand has added a Maori language option to the latest computers and phones running on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Te Taka Keegan, a senior lecturer in computer science at Waikato University, led a team of eight translators over six months to translate basic computer commands like "Save As" into Maori for the project.

Google had also called for fluent Maori language speakers to rate translations on Google Translate to try for full integration into the system.

"It's never as simple as simple translation," Mr Keegan said. " At the end of the day some people will never understand it because the computer language is another language on its own."

Mr Keegan said a recent survey of Maori found they all wanted user interfaces in their native tongue, but only half knew it was possible and had installed it.

Microsoft also said it was establishing a charitable foundation for te reo Maori language experts and advocates to bring free te reo Maori translations to the internet via its search engine.

Waikato Times