Te Reo Maori gate keepers for the future or for the cemetery

Reo has to evolve or it will die, and it cannot be controlled by a small team; it has to be community driven.

Gate keepers of the Māori language only hinder and halt its evolution. We live in an Information Technology driven society that needs Maori language to adapt.

I have documented my personal thoughts on the status of te reo Māori in 2012 and the urgent need to revaluate how the language should evolve and encompass Information Technology such as Facebook, mobile phones and the web.

For an academic approach to the same subject http://www.maramatanga.ac.nz/sites/default/files/12-IN-04%20Web%20ready%20.pdf


One language in the world becomes extinct every 14 days according to National Geographic. The Māori language was close to being one of those languages in my life time and even 50 years ago school children were physically punished for speaking Māori at school while parents discouraged the use of Māori. Today we have a good resurgence of Māori speakers but still wide spread mispronunciation of common Māori place and personal names in the education system and in society.

I am not a language expert; however, I am an expert at creating delivery tools that revive/enhance minority languages. I work and have worked in a community (Internet and Computers) for over 16 years that has had to create their own words in order to speak Māori, with the Kohanga Reo being the first. All of this while government appointed agencies have largely ignored the issues of a modern society. Now these same tax payer funded entities are speaking out and demeaning the development of the Māori language while working in secrecy and isolation from the community, from the country who speak Māori.

The ICT community have throughout my 16 year career in ICT, created their own words out of a need then sought community approval and edited those words to reflect what the community want. The government entity who now claims responsibility for all te reo Māori work in isolation with a small team of experts then archive new words in a database that is not publically made available. Haphazard and expensive paper based publication will be published with no other effort to share the words. This sad fact is shown in the many teachers of the Māori Language who have to constantly create their own vocabulary both at teachers college and in their jobs.

I wonder if Te reo Māori is in the minority of languages in the world that has such gate keepers halting the development of a minority language. Society is changing so quickly that there is a natural need to create new terminology for professional and social areas of life.

If a small group of English scholars in Wellington suddenly told New Zealanders they had no right to create their own vocabulary, but instead they had to wait years and years for a handful of words to be created by non-industry experts there would be a public outcry of rage and disbelief.  Likewise if the Science and Technology community created new English words and were then told to submit them to the English language scholars for approval we would simply see that community leave New Zealand so they could flourish in their own professions.

I see children not wanting to speak Māori as it is not in their new world of the Internet, electronic devices such as cell phones, hand held computers and video communication. I wonder if the Māori language will become a victim of its own ignorance as the gate keepers, the influential Māori language leaders remain technologically ignorant and don’t venture out into the modern technology driven society.

We live in a new society where information is shared, quickly made available to the masses and approved or modified by a majority of a community opinion. It is called the Internet. Our new society can utilise the expertise of language experts, publish them to the masses and make amendments within days, sometimes hours. The current “official” process is that a select few language experts work in isolation form any community, decide themselves what needs to be coined while prioritising words that will generate income such as from other government departments. These words are then kept in secrecy and not freely published to anyone outside of their scholarly group. This has been going on for years and at one stage the database was licensed under a commercial agreement to a company that then sold access to language speakers.

International best practices and language revival experts’ advice appear to have been ignored with the Māori language’s official language department. A language must be relevant and used in the home before it can flourish. Geographically dispersed Māori families and communities use the Internet to connect and create virtual whanau hui and sometimes virtual Iwi. Facebook is the world’s most popular web based social media platform that allows people to be in contact with each other. 1/3 of New Zealanders interact with Facebook while over 800 million users worldwide use Facebook.

Traditional Māori families now rely on platforms such as Facebook and other Internet technologies for cost effective communication. Therefore, the Internet must be considered a part of family communication. 87% of New Zealand homes have Internet via a computer or a mobile device. Māori are high users of the Internet and mobile technology with 78% of Māori being users of such technology.

Joshua Fishman an internationally renowned Language Revitalisation expert believes that in order for a language to survive it must be used in the home and the neighbourhood first. Māori have been doing this for a number of years and successfully. But now we are faced with a more technologically thinking society; Māori language needs to move forward and create a bilingual environment on the web and in mobile devices. We have Microsoft Windows, Google, Facebook and various other software in the Māori language that was community driven and successfully grown and accepted in a short period of time. The Translators were all recognised experts of te reo Māori. The words and translations were all made freely and publically available so that anyone can learn and adapt to the new words.

The FaceBook in Māori project was a part of an international effort to represent minority languages on the world’s most popular social networking tool. Many of the words used are already used in Microsoft Windows whose translators included well known language experts Piripi Walker and Ian Cormack to humbly mention but a few of the elite.

Considering the penetration of Facebook into the home and that it is a common communication tool in the home, it is a direct contradiction that such platforms have had no consideration by any entity responsible for the survival of the Māori language.  Why too, does the entity who under legislation is to promote and ensure the language remains healthy create words in secrecy and does not make new words publically available, allowing the language to evolve in the home.

One must ask themselves how did the Māori language get into such a state with only a handful of people claiming they are the only experts and that community driven language development is no longer appropriate. The English language evolves and is added to all of the time.

Why do we have Māori speakers who belittle language development, create new vocabulary in secrecy for the elite few, ignore the ever changing society, disregard what the communities want and need and be the only culture in the world who believe an individual or entity can own a spoken word and definition without it being a TradeMark or Patent.

The Māori language mostly ignored many of the sciences and technology for many years leaving the state of the Māori language in a state of being extremely outdated; a language only for those who are not employed in the various professional areas as there is no way of explaining things or referencing a tool or a piece of equipment in Māori.

One only needs to look at a Māori dictionary to realise how out of date the Māori Language has become. Again we must be amongst the minority language in the world that does not have one comprehensive dictionary, but a multitude of dictionaries that any serious speaker of Māori would need to purchase. Even then this would not adequately provide enough information.

No one speaks like Shakespeare in everyday life. The English language had to adapt to new technology and sciences. An educated person of the English Language can speak both Shakespeare and modern day English. It is called evolution. Without it a language will die.

In conclusion I want to paraphrase something I recently heard.

I use to blame the Pākehā school system for my loss of reo. As I got older I retained much that I lost. Then a self-appointed few of the Māoridoms elite deemed that the my language that my family have spoken for generations could not be used or expanded for anything other than what they the elite approved. In the meantime, they expanded the reo in different sector and kept it hidden in their personal and government protected vaults in the wellington marae in the sky.

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