Friday, July 30, 2010

Mike Butler: Maori compulsory at school?

Whether the Maori language should be made a compulsory subject at school, like English, was a question bandied about during this year’s Maori Language Week, which ends on Sunday. The theme this year was “Te Mahi Kai – The Language of Food”. The line-up of nine veges featured in the local newspaper’s obligatory feature almost mirrored the make-up of the language that has rapidly expanded since colonisation, with borrowed words given a Maori look. The kumara was the only edible plant in the line-up that was here in 1840, and even that was brought here from somewhere else.

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.


Anonymous said...

The best language to learn for me - in my 73 years- was Latin. I was able to decipher the meaning of most words from that language. However, I now believe that Mandarin would be a much better language as an extra language to be taught in schools. It would be used much more than Maori in our supermarkets and among new friends in our communities.I learnt French,Latin and German and still can converse well in German.Tried to learn Korean but could not find a teacher, despite puting notices in Asian supermarkets.
Have many Asian neighbours- most speaking or learning Mandarin. When visiting Ireland. despite their official language being taught in all schools, all said that within a few years they had forgotten most and did not use it.

Anonymous said...

Mike - an interesting article. I am an Auckland University graduate of the late 60s early 70s with secondary schooling at St Stephens where Maori was compulsory for the first two years.

I couldn't wait to drop the subject in the 3rd year. How I regret doing so. Many of my colleagues, Derek Fox comes to mind and later Shane Jones and Te Ururoa Flavel and Hone Harawira kept the language. They were more 'Maori' than I.

Your comment that the language was probably disuaded by Maori is biased to say the least. Those that tried to stop Maori language and therefore the culture need to hang there heads in shame. I am in the 3rd year of a Te Ara Reo language program run by Te Wananga o Aotearoa and personally realise how hard it is to pick up all the nuances of the language let alone the vocabulary. Yet all this would be easy if I had not made the fateful decision at Tipene.

Maori should certainly be made compulsory at schools and eventually will be. When exactly I do not know but it will be. The Maori world and discussion is so different from that of Pakeha and Pakeha are in for a rude awakening if decisions like no special Maori seats on the Auckland Supercity continue to be the norm. Maori are becoming more and more influential every day but have a long way to go yet - watch this space as they say.

One day I expect we will have to ask Maori for fairness but until that day comes I am on the side of Maori. The conundrum is I am only part Maori.

Kia kaha ki Te Reo rangatira - ko Rawiri tenei

Anonymous said...

Told to learn Maori Pakeha will opt for an alternative such as Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

What sad and deeply disturbing comments are those posted above by the self-described "Auckland University Graduate". I am a graduate of a Scottish university and I fell in love with New Zealand in the early 1980's, returning to live in NZ with my wife 10 years later. All our children were born as New Zealanders and we were proud to become Kiwis ourselves. As professional people, we looked forward to contributing to the growth of what seemed to be a uniquely gifted country, a young nation with so much promise, a nation free of the shackles of the old-world class-driven politics, and a nation where 2 cultures - Maori and European - seemed to have merged remarkably harmoniously.
Yet some 18 years later, here we are now living in Australia. Our children, who would have had so much to offer NZ, are unlikely ever to return to live and work there. Their skills and intelligence and integrity will benefit a country that rewards and nurtures its inhabitants according to the strength of contribution made by those individuals, rather than according to their race or colour of their skin.
The comments made by the above correspondent are laced with the sort of threatening racism which will be the death of Zealand - and indeed the comments are all the more unfathomable and ridiculous given that he admits that he is - like most Maori activists, who seem to be ashamed of their European heritage - only part-Maori.
The Maori language is indeed representative of the Maori culture. It is beautiful, as is the Maori sense of fun, the natural warmth of the Maori people, the joy of their music and dance and the beauty of their art. All of this should be celebrated and encouraged.
But what needs to be actively discouraged is the emerging and growing folly propagated by certain like-minded political activists that suggests - indeed insists - that Maori culture is somehow superior to European culture.
This bullying, offensive racism is an affront to the people of the many cultures - the English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, German, French, Croation, African, Indian, Chinese, South American, Pacific (the list is endless) -who have left their homelands to contribute to this young society.
So, yes, the inhabitants of New Zealand should be encouraged to acquaint themselves with the Maori language: encouraged, but not coerced or forced to do so. More importantly, New Zealanders, be they of European or Maori lineage (or both), should be looking out into the World, rather than gazing only inwards into our small country. It seems that many who espouse the above racist Maori line fail - perhaps due to New Zealand's very isolation - to realise that New Zealand is only a tiny dot on the World map. "Maori culture", on a world scale, is even less consequential. Perhaps that is the way they wish the country and the society to remain, and no doubt some reading this will say "good riddence" to me and my family.
However, a word of warning to those who wish for a " Little Aotearoa". The time of ascendancy of the European is indeed coming to an end in New Zealand - as it is in Australia and many other countries of the World.
The language our children should all be learning is Chinese. And somehow I don't think the Chinese - who are quietly and peacefully invading most corners of the globe - will be as tolerant of Maori culture as the British were and continue to be. So as you say, "Watch this space".

Anonymous said...

I can't help wondering if the Auckland University graduate is John Key's adviser on Maori issues.

Anonymous said...

The comments by Anonymous supporting the compulsory teaching of Maori are revealing. What it shows is that those who have good command of te reo have been able to have a better ride on the Maori grievance gravy train than others. Anonymous is now getting on board, albeit a few stops down the track.

That aside, Anonymous did not address the issue as to why learning te reo should be compulsory. It should be no more compulsory than learning French, Mandarin, or woodwork.

Anonymous said...

A very well structured insight from August 3 4.35pm anonymous. Perhaps a prompt to emigrate for those who are sickened and perhaps even frightened by comments from people like August 3 1.39pm anonymous. However, I have a nagging feeling that along with a lot of other race biased events, Maori language will be a compulsory subject in schools. A subject for me should I be in a position to take, I would gladly fail.

Unknown said...

The New Zealand curriculum specifies in eight different learning areas:
• English
• Art
• Health and physical education
• Learning languages
• Mathematics and statistics
• Social science
• Science
• Technology
The foundation for essential future life skills lies in each specific learning area. “As language is central to learning and English is the medium for most learning in the New Zealand Curriculum, the importance of literacy in English cannot be overstated” NZ Curriculum.
Recent internal studies confirm concerns about the lower Māori student success rate (Endres-Fairnie, 2004; Gibson-van Marrewijk, 2005). I believe this has a lot of contributing factors including the curriculum and how it applies to Maori. The main language being spoken in NZ is the English language. Though the English language has many beneficial properties that Maori as a people can benefit from in western society, maori also have a lot of contributing attributes and holistic approaches that the western society can adopt. Importance of knowing ones true linguistic heritage is crucial and also beneficial to the identity, growth and development of this country. Restoration of historical damage is crucial in order to move forward as a nation.. I am disappointed about how much I didn’t know about the treaty of Waitangi and the history of Aotearoa. Also am saddened about the lack of knowledge surrounding the treaty that is drip fed through our very own schooling system within Aotearoa. I can only hope that in time language and literacy is to be applied and made a compulsory subject in our curriculum to optimize and improve Maori success. Maori is the true language of this little island (Aotearoa) “which cannot be overstated.”

Anonymous said...

It will be morer practical for our children to learn Chinese instead of Maori.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Maori should be compulsary in schools to a certain extent. Perhaps just offer it in year 9 and 10 as half-year courses. If that is not implicated then I strongly suggest that the history of Aotearoa and the history of the Maori Land Wars should be taught throughout the country alongside WWII.

Non-Maori should try and understand the full concept of Te Reo Maori as it is not just a language it is also a great look into how the Maori view the world in a more holistic view. I believe that the 'English' language is the most bastardised language in the world. With words coming from origins of the likes of Latin, Greek etc.

Maori is less practical, but wouldn't it be better to know the native tongue of this beautiful nation. A place where the future generations of NZ can emerge as one and push aside all the racism, discrimination and stereotypes. That would be the real ideal NZ.

Anonymous said...

I am a German persons very interested in linguistic questions.
Generally spoken, I am strongly in favour of compulsory teaching of indigenous languages to every student in every area where there are signigicant indigenous populations speaking their language and/or where a revival movement is underway.
I think that everybody should know at least two but rather three languages. Why not emphasing on languages that are indigenous to the own country from the first human settlement?
In New Zealand, Maori is the most ancient national treasure. It has certainly much to do with the New Zealanders' living environment.
English-speaking countries have the advantage that the place which otherwhere is occupied by English at school lets space for further languages.
But without doubt, reconciliation is not a one-way thing. After serious gestures from the Pakeha, it is to the Maori to show honest interest and respect for the Pakeha culture. The Pakeha ought not to lose the pride into their own cultural roots.