‘Only one in five Māori can speak te reo’ are the kind of statistics that highlight the danger of the language being lost, says Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor Rawinia Higgins.
13 July 2015
At her inaugural lecture held at Victoria’s Te Herenga Waka Marae, Professor Higgins’ described the current position of te reo in New Zealand as ‘static’.
“Nothing significant has happened that suggests we have made an overwhelming shift in Māori language activity, and perhaps the changes to the Māori language strategy in 2014 suggest that we are regressing.”
“Statistics show that our own Māori 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.
Professor Higgins says indigenous peoples around the world look to Māori for leadership in this area and she believes it is New Zealand’s responsibility to review strategies and our current position so that other nations do not end up on the same road as us.
“New Zealand initiatives like Te Ataarangi (a language programme), Kōhanga Reo (Māori language family programme) and Wānanga (tertiary institutes) have been adopted by other nations in an effort to reverse language shift.”
Professor Higgins applauded the revitalisation efforts being undertaken across New Zealand and believes that the language could potentially be in a worse state without them.
“In a time where New Zealanders are always looking for what makes us distinctive in the world, for this country it is te reo Māori—it is part of our environment, it gives us a sense of place.”
Professor Higgins suggests that to normalise te reo Māori in New Zealand, it needs to be adopted by the nation.
“If there is an acceptance or appreciation for the Māori language by wider society, this will make a significant difference to the status of the Māori language.
“This will enable New Zealanders to also help to support and nurture the language to be a living language so that it is ki wīwī (here), ki wāwā (there) and therefore normalised everywhere, rather than randomly pepper-pottered around so that it ends up nowhere.”