Te Reo Maori is in dire straits. That’s the unsurprising claim made by Professor Paul Moon. He made it in his new book Killing Te Reo Maori: An Indigenous Language facing extinction.
The title says it all. Personally, I’m supportive of the preservation of one of New Zealand’s official languages, and it’s great to teach children the language at school, anything that engages a child’s brain a little more than an iPad is a good thing.
But I often wonder whether some Maori need to have honest discussion about the language when It comes to New Zealand history, and how it helps children in the future.
Putting the language in the spotlight for one week of the year seems condescending. You’ll know it’s Maori Language Week when television weather presenters pronounce every New Zealand town in Maori.
If it was as relevant as we’re sometimes told, why is it only good enough for a week?
Of course what Paul Moon says isn’t new. In 2010, the Waitangi Tribunal said the Maori language is in crisis, and the government was not doing enough to keep it alive.
It said “Te Reo was dying and needed life support.” So what’s changed?
Moon says Te Reo Maori is reaching the point where it may disappear as a living language in just one generation.
But who’s to blame?
Sir Timoti Karetu, who was the first Maori Language Commissioner, has spoken about this issue before and has said “there is an apathy pervading the whole of the Maori world, and the language is its victim”.
He said “the Maori world has got to realise that if they want the language to survive, then it is the responsibility of every individual Maori person to do something about it. Don’t stand in the wings bleating away until the Maori world wakes up to the fact that unless it does something, the language is going to die.”
Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Rawinia Higgins says statistics show Maori people live outside of the language and choose not to see the relevance of the language to themselves because it appears to lack any relevance to society.
Ironically, in recent years, there’s been a push by Caucasian Kiwis to “have a go” at speaking the language. Some of these noble good sorts do so, with the “look at me” attitude that goes with it, making their endeavours come across as disingenuous.
Language evolves and changes and the ‘use it or lose it’ rule applies.
But trying to prop up a language artificially, when it lacks daily relevance beyond the feel-good factor, is doomed to failure.
Source: NZ Herald