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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Joe Bennett: Evolving language scoffs at moral or political aims


She's well into her 70s, lives alone, has a science degree or two, speaks her mind, does not own a television, leaves her back door open in all weathers because fresh air helps her think, reads three books a week, is a lifelong socialist and she shins up ladders to pick plums, when she can’t, that is, get a passing newspaper columnist to do it for her.

And it was while the passing newspaper columnist was up the ladder a few weeks back that she said, a propos of I can no longer remember what, that she couldn’t be bothered with RNZ National any more because of all the Maori nonsense.

Well, you can imagine my reaction. I looked down from on high and she was bending to collect a dropped plum so I had an unimpeded view of her neck in the autumnal sunshine, and, would you believe it, it wasn’t remotely red. Not a hint of carmine. Scarletfree, it was. What could possibly be going on? This called for research.

In the car I listen to RNZ Concert, because it plays the sort of music that allows me to think reasonably well of my species (though it seems to me indicative that it has to reach back centuries to find it). The radio is also tuned to RNZ National but I rarely listen to it these days because, on the principle that the news you need to know will always find you, I have lost interest in current affairs. But as I drove away from Ms Plum’s I tuned into National out of curiosity.

It was lunchtime and the announcer was speaking at a breathless rate about the news of the the day. As she did so she dropped into and out of the Maori language in a way I have never heard anyone do in actual life.

This was more than the odd kia ora. There would be several sentences in a row in te reo, often at the start of an item. But when an interview began or an item of news was conveyed, she reverted to English. The effect was not dissimilar to a child I once knew who was brought up bilingually. His mother spoke Spanish to him, his father English. And at the age of 3 he had not dissociated the languages and would slip from one to another and back again even in the course of a single sentence. Another couple of years, however — and this does seem to be the point — he had separated one from the other.

The effect of the announcer’s speech was disconcerting. As an English speaker I had to sieve what I heard, distinguishing what I understood from what I didn’t. It did not make for relaxed listening and I understood the misgivings of Ms Plum.

But for monolingual speakers of Maori it would have been worse. They too would still have had to sieve for the bits they understood but since all the actual news came in English they’d have soon worked out which was the language that mattered here, and gone elsewhere.

Have the people at Radio New Zealand thought this through? I fear not. Do I really need to explain how language works? I fear so.

Languages exist for one reason only — to communicate meaning. To this end they evolve with time and what is useful endures and what is not withers. And that’s it. That’s the inevitable, immutable, blind process, and nothing we say or do will alter it.

Languages cheerfully borrow from each another. English has adopted hundreds of Maori words, largely to describe things that exist here and nowhere else — pukeko, rimu, mana and so on. And Maori has taken on board no end of words from English to describe the materials and ideas that settlers brought. But having borrowed them a language makes them its own. It fits them into its own structure. So while there is some overlap of vocabulary between te reo and English, there is none of grammar or syntax. The languages remain grammatically distinct.

The RNZ National announcer appeared to be speaking a new and hybrid tongue, part te reo, part English. In reality she was speaking English — the language she used to convey meaning — and she was dropping in chunks of te reo for a moral or political purpose. And language evolution scoffs at moral or political purposes.

In short, she was wasting her time. In doing so she was alienating Ms Plum, educating noone, patronising Maoridom and barking up a barren linguistic plum tree.

Joe Bennett is a Lyttelton writer and newspaper columnist, he is also the author of many books. This article was published in the Otago Daily Times 21st April 2022.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

i wonder why a Maori equivalent of IELTS is not mandated for all immigrants! i certainly feel stupid that i'm unable to understand most of the web pages of my university policies and regular news articles - despite scoring a decent 8/9 for my postgrad application.

Anonymous said...

Either speak te reo or speak English, to mix them is a disservice to both. Surely that is obvious. Like "singlish" (Singapore) we should perhaps call the hybrid "manglish".

Jigsaw said...

Unfortunately the Maori activists do not see language in those terms and although it's blindingly obvious to most, they wish to add other things on to language. The things they seek to attach are things they wish to use to attack what they in their ignorance see as white privilege, colonialism and all the other Marxist loaded ammunition that it can fire.
To them you Joe Bennett, have now joined the ranks of those who have very red necks- that will teach you to question the indigenous 'wisdom.'

DeeM said...

The media believe that by forcefully subjecting us to little bits of Maori on our TV news and radio that we'll all go "why don't we learn Te Reo!".

Yeah...nah! What 99% of us actually think is "jeez, that's so bloody annoying" and we hit the mute button or better still switch off.
The other 1% are the maori activists, woke academics, politicians, corporate wallas and media journos who love spouting forth in Maori because it makes them feel superior to everyone else.

Tony B said...

I am not aware of any other country that has attempted to blend two languages into one national variety and expect the result to be understandable. The Welsh, who are pasionate protectors of their language, have not (as far as I am aware) created a 'wenglish' language that combines both. English is used when English is appropriate; Welsh is used when appropriate - but they remain distinct languages. But the fanatics in this country are attemtping to steamroll us into a unique 'manglish' that will be useless for everyday intercourse. The result will be something like a creole or pidgin dialect.
Of course another issue with a forceful blending is that a specialist dictionary besome necessary ...

Rob said...

I’m with Mrs Plums. I just turn it off. It has been introduced by the woke brigade to annoy as many people as possible. We used to tolerate Maori week and breath a sigh of relief when it was all over. Now it has become a constant reminder that only the most feeble brain would perpetuate a language that less than 10% of the population understands.

Anonymous said...

All of my friends and family no longer watch TV 1 or TV 3 news because of the pidgin English used by the presenters, and the totally biased left wing views. The majority of New Zealanders have had a guts full of this corrupt racist government trying to Maorify our Country. Kiwialan.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, and as most people who I talk to these days see it the Maori racist radicals are doing a fine job of turning huge numbers of people away from accepting the Maori language in any form. Manglish is becoming universally disliked, one-because its being forced on the populous, two- we all know that in an internationally connected world it is virtually useless and will make our people less desirable in overseas jobs, and three- it now represents racist, seperatist and anti democratic sentiment on the part of the Maori people and our radical tyranical government which is tearing our country apart.

Anonymous said...

the lands been stolen, the cultures partly stolen - at least by government depts - and now its time to steal the language.

NZs woke culture is quite evil - it will mangle everything

Janine said...

The only point that needs to be made and you have made it. Language is for clear communication not " virtue signalling". For those of us who have studied other languages it is the equivalent of interspersing French, German or Latin into our sentences. We might feel " superior" but our audience thinks it is just plain foolish.This whole language controversy is more about a power grab by a small selection of the population.

Anonymous said...

Janine said it well above, except I would add that people who sprinkle other language into their speech, though may feel superior, they're often perceived as being pompous

Anonymous said...

I have turned off Morning Report and News at Midday because they do not any longer cater for the majority of people who speak English.
What we are offered is gabbled and hybrid and I find it not worth listening to.
The question is: Why is this happening when only about 17% of the population identify as Maori? Perhaps NZ's involvement with, and signature to, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, has prompted an over enthusiastic response ? We do need to get a sense of what has gone before, but more importantly we live in the present and we need to get real!

Anonymous said...

The Canadians have resolved their dual official language system in a respectful & civilized manner. They keep written and spoken English and French totally separate in all spheres of life. All speech or printed matter in either language on TV, publications, documentation etc in the private and public life, are provided with the option of a translation. The two languages are separate but on an equal footing and neither one is forced on anyone. I am astounded a similar approach is not applied in NZ.

Anonymous said...

Could foreshadow the end of radio in nz.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this worthless and annoying, Government funded mangling of both languages is also creeping into the TV scene. I don't watch that as well now. Ill founded garbage.

Uilleam said...

It would be very interesting to confirm which language was used by the 370 participants engaging with Willie Jackson and Margaret Mohu during their 69 meetings throughout the country in the last 6 months -- Maori or "Manglish".

Anonymous said...

As a New Zealander living overseas for the past 14 years, I find it infuriating when I interact with NZ officials, when I read or listen to NZ media, who use Maori words they must know I don't understand. It is a complete turn-off, it does not make me want to learn a few Maori words - it does the opposite and drives me away. I suspect it may soon drive tourists away as well. It is not cute, it is not attractive, it is annoying.

Anonymous said...

NZ has turned into a nasty place to live with leftist Ideologies being rammed in our faces. I for one dont watch any news channel anymore as I dont like the lies, deception and te reo in my face. Its time is stopped.

Dave said...

Good article Joe. I dont think you need to worry about the "monolingual speakers of Maori" There are very few of these and I doubt that they listen to the National Programme. This pathetic mixture of Te Reo and English has infected our media from advertisements to Govt Dept literature to an extent which so frustrates 99% of the population that messages and information are rendered useless. I read recently where a person had received correspondence from Govt Dept which was completely in Maori. An English "translation" was provided (demeaning in itself) but that too was sprinkled with Te Reo to an extent which made the content unreadable gibberish. Tell me how that improves the service to taxpayers? This BS is a insidious disease and will hinder not help kiwis accept attempts to preserve and promote Te Reo.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the Latin phrases used in Court proceedings. I clearly makes the judiciary and lawyers believe that they are on a higher intellectual level than anybody else present.

Don said...

Spare a thought for the announcers who are bullied into using Maori under threat of losing their jobs if they refuse. It is obvious that they respond by rattling it off so fast even fluent Maori speakers would be hard put to understand it. Not that their speed of speaking English on some stations is any less.
Mike Hoskings must be paid by the word so that his rants come out as one incomprehensible babble that might be any language.

Robert Arthur said...

You are well behind the times Joe. RNZ has been captured by maori for a long time now. If you find midday weeks tiresome, do not sample Saturday. New staff are clearly chosen for their ability to babble te reo. Few people sit and listen and do nothing else. The radio usually plays as background and ears prick up when anything of interest. But it is now impossible to casually monitor and still get the drift. We must be the only country in the world intent on returning to the stone age. The maori content of so many items is a whole other subject. I understand listener numbers have fallen...
Recent submissions on the RNZ Charter have elicited no improvement.

Martin L said...

Martin L

I was an avid listener of radio New Zealand and TV one and three news.

Have given up because I feel it is getting to be a lot of proper gander and nonsense No wonder there ratings have dropped and news talk ZB has gone up truth radio.

Anonymous said...

What is happening is the creation of a creole language such as Afrikaans or Papua New Guinea Pidgin. Though it is developing not to make communication between different speakers smoother (as those languages evolved) but as an artificial construct more akin to Esperanto - devised for political purposes not communications ones. The Esperanto project was not wildly successful with a world of several billion users; I suspect the NZ attempt will be even less so, with only 5 million potential users. It will not become common in usage but will be be reserved for specific elitist activities, such as radio broadcasts and political positioning.