Friday, July 30, 2010
Mike Butler: Maori compulsory at school?Labels: Mike Butler, Race relations
We learned that $126-million is spent each year to promote Maori, that the Maori Language Act is to be revamped, and that ways to extend the use of Maori in court, and other government agencies, is under consideration.
A push for the language to be made compulsory at school came from white rapper Jamie Greenslade, a private-school educated political science graduate who made a name for himself as Maitreya, the Pakeha who raps in Maori. He maintained that it would help us all understand who we are.
For those of you who are either elated or irritated by the annual push to speak “te reo”, some background information may help. New Zealand has only two official languages -- Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. English, the medium for teaching and learning in most schools, is a de facto official language by virtue of its widespread use for day-to-day communication.
Celebrated since 1975, Maori Language Week is led by the Ministry of Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri) and the Maori Language Commission, with participation from schools, libraries, government departments, as well as newspapers, radio and television.
Where does the Maori language sit among world languages? Linguists classify the Maori language within the Eastern Polynesian languages as being closely related to Cook Islands Maori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, less closely to Hawaiian and Marquesan, and more distantly to the languages of Western Polynesia, including Samoan, Tokelauan, Niuean and Tongan. 2
Maori belongs to the Austronesian language family that is widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with some spoken on continental Asia. It is one of the best-established ancient language families.
The first Maori settlers, according to the prevailing anthropological view, came to New Zealand from tropical Eastern Polynesia, mostly likely from the Southern Cook or Society Islands region by about AD 1280, and from that time the Maori language developed in isolation.
Maori was the predominant language of New Zealand in 1840. By 1858, 59,000 settlers outnumbered the Maori population of 56,409, meaning Maori started to become a minority language in the shadow of the English spoken by settlers, missionaries, gold seekers, and traders.
The introduction of an English-style school system in the late 19th century had a further impact on the use of the Maori language when authorities forbade the use of Maori in schools. This move was possibly at the request of Maori leaders who appreciated the value of their young people becoming fluent in English.
Maori remained the first language of Maori people until World War Two (1939–1945) from when the number of speakers of Maori began to decline rapidly so that by the 1980s fewer than 20 percent of Maori spoke the language well enough to be classed as native speakers. Many of those people no longer spoke Maori at home.
By the 1980s, Maori leaders initiated Maori-language recovery-programs such as the Kohanga Reo movement, which from 1982 immersed infants in Maori from infancy to school age, followed the founding of the Kura Kaupapa Maori primary-school programme in Maori.
A 1994 ruling by the Privy Council in the United Kingdom held the New Zealand Government responsible under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi for the preservation of the language. From that flowed Maori TV.
Despite 30 years of government efforts to promote the language, fluency in Maori was reduced to four percent of the New Zealand population, according to the 2006 census, with only 24 percent of Maori people able to hold a conversation in Maori about everyday things. Census data from Australia show it was the home language of 5504 people in 2001, or 7.5 percent of the Maori community in Australia.
How extensive is the language? Most Maori dictionaries contain between 10,000 and 20,000 word entries. If every Maori word that ever appeared in print was counted the number may reach 100,000. Since the late 1980s most new words in Maori have been created or approved by New Zealand's Maori Language Commission which has developed a set of guidelines. Before the 1980s words were mainly borrowed from English.
Tertiary institutes, which make money by selling education, see an opportunity in the official push to learn Maori. A prospectus from one such tertiary education provider, the Eastern Institute of Technology, puts the argument thus: “Young Maori are now realising that they are the kaumatua of tomorrow and that the ongoing survival of the language is critical in order to fulfill their cultural needs . . . .kohanga reo and kura kaupapa have made parents conscious of the need to keep up with their children´s knowledge of Te Reo Maori. . . . . and “employers now prefer bilingual and bicultural employees, especially since Te Reo Maori became an official language of New Zealand.
Therefore, learning Maori can be a career move for long-term beneficiaries, who can sign up to a fully-funded course at the nearest tertiary institute.
Will the Maori language disappear if government agencies cease acting as caretakers? Probably not. Because the root of the language is widely established, the basic language will remain regardless of government initiatives in New Zealand.
Would making the language compulsory in school increase its use? In the short term, yes, at school. However, such a move would be hugely unpopular, as indicated in a totally unscientic poll conducted by YahooXtra poll on July 28, 2010. In response to the question whether the Maori language should be compulsory in school– of 9671 votes, 7907 or 82 percent said no, 1544 or 16 percent said yes.
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