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December 4, 2017 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Recent controversies in New Zealand have brought the threatened state of the Māori language back into the spotlight - New Zealand broadcasters refuse to stop using Māori words (Eleanor Ainge Roy, The Guardian)

  • Kia ora from RNZ (Shannon Haunui-Thompson, RNZ)
    Dear Sir/Madam, Thank you for listening to RNZ, it's unfortunate you're upset and angry by hearing te reo Māori being used by our presenters and reporters daily. We encourage all our staff to, including those not on-air, use te reo Māori as much as possible.
  • ’Why does the media give these voices so much air’ (Māni Dunlop)
    Amid the recent rhetoric about how horrid our reo is to listen to and how it is rammed down the ears of people who don't understand it, it didn't surprise me who was leading the xenophobic - and brace yourself, I am going to use the R word - racist narrative. How I love how Pākehā men tell me how and when our reo should be used! Thanks for reaffirming the colonised reality that I live in!
  • Recently, ex-National Party leader (and previous Leader of the Opposition) Don Brash was interviewed by Kim Hill on his opposition to the Māori phrases used on Radio NZ. Here’s an entertaining play-by-play of Hill’s best burns.
    “Do you think your opinion on this is [long, exasperated sigh] old-fashioned?” Brash, also perhaps unsurprisingly, does not think this.
  • A take from Kiwipolitico: The beginning of the end of an error
    There were no winners in Kim Hill’s interview with Don Brash … Not Kim, and not Don, not Guyon Espiner’s unflinching use of te reo on Morning Report, and certainly not the people of Aotearoa.
  • Te reo growing pains — this is what change feels like (Stacey Morrison, e-tangata)
    Te Reo Māori greetings on mainstream media are a small arm of the huge body of work still required. It’s just that, right now, it’s the part that’s getting all the attention. These debates are our growing pains. We’re extending the status quo, and this is what change feels like. So, you can be mad if you like, but I find it exciting.

The other debate surrounds compulsory Māori language schooling

The Māori language (te reo Māori) is in a perilous state.

Ignorance about Māori culture is no longer acceptable (Lizzie Marvelly at villainesse.com)

So let’s learn Māori!
  • How to Pronounce Māori (MāoriLanguage.net)
  • Order your coffee in Māori (PDF, tetaurawhiri)
  • Beginner’s kete to learning basic Māori language (Christchurch City Libraries)
  • 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know (NZHistory)
  • Here's a Māori Dictionary. (Te Whanake)
  • Tōku Reo
    is a language learning show based on the comprehensive Te Whanake language course created by Professor John Moorfield. It’s a new, vibrant, and fun way of learning Te Reo Māori in the comfort of your own home. In every block of five episodes, viewers of Tōku Reo learn vocabulary based around a role-play as well as a small number of sentence structures. The website makes all episodes available in shortened podcast form as well as full length half-hour episodes.
  • Te Kākano
    This thirteen-part serial has been designed for beginner and intermediate learners to develop listening comprehension skills. The serial has an urban setting and uses everyday language. Ideally, learners who have already some knowledge of the language will gain the most from watching each episode of the serial.
  • Te Kai a Te Rangatira
    This thirteen-part serial has been designed for intermediate and more advanced learners to develop listening comprehension skills. It is a serial about a city restaurant run by the whānau that own the restaurant land as the result of a land claim. The emphasis is on modern colloquial Māori.

Are you in New Zealand? Where to learn te reo Māori anywhere in Aotearoa, for free or next to nothing.

NB: The post title is a Māori proverb that translates to “Speak your language so its beauty may be heard.”
posted by Start with Dessert (37 comments total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. Thank you.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:59 PM on December 4, 2017

posted by The Toad at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2017

Flagged as fantastic. Thank you!
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:25 PM on December 4, 2017

This is a brilliant post. Thank you so much for the insights into this question I hadn't even heard of before.
posted by harujion at 9:52 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

These people complaining are absolutely ridiculous ... I had a Maori roommate for two years (in the US) and I can understand half of these phrases (from the RNZ sign-offs) just from, like, hearing her say bye to her mom on the phone. What kind of comprehensive jackass lives in the country and "can't understand" when it's called Aotearoa? Or is flummoxed by a simple kia ora, or doesn't know what an iwi is? Ugh, suck less, particularly backwards pākehā.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 PM on December 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

Radio New Zealand – the New Zealand equivalent of the BBC – is supposed to be free of political meddling. Yet now it has been hijacked, and its hapless staff obliged to dispense their daily dose of Te Reo,”
This dude, quoted in the FPP, is just particularly amazing. How unselfreflective do you have to be to not see how demands that there be no Te Reo in public life is are radically political statememts that public institutions have no business endorsing.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:55 PM on December 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

the Te Reo language

"the The Language language"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:04 PM on December 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

"the The Language language"

So good we named it twice! Tino pai!
(Also obligatory it's the Guardian, they have enough trouble with te reo Ingarihi).

By way of background, racist dogwhistles are pretty much Don Brash's schtick. He tried this unpleasantness when opposition National Party leader (it failed to win National the election, and he resigned); then joined the ACT Party (basically Libertarian with a nasty streak) and lost them most of their seats, then formed a lobby group calling for an end to "special privileges" for Māori. They seem to be making a lot of noise, and I saw lots of ads for them in our local business news website, but hopefully not making much impact.

The other guy quoted in the OP is an Irish immigrant, which you would think would make him sensitive to people mispronouncing names, but apparently not.

I'm hoping that they're a tiny minority: the tide is definitely against them (example: we're singing happy birthday to my baby niece; the adults stop as usual, and unprompted the kids sing a second verse in Māori; at a quiz where one of the questions is to name months and days of the week in Māori, few of us can do it, and the quizmaster is shocked - he's a teacher, and every kid in his class could. My generation probably supports the language without being able to speak it, the next generation will speak it better, and the next...).
posted by Pink Frost at 11:40 PM on December 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

This really is old white guy yells at kids to get of his lawn.
posted by happyinmotion at 11:43 PM on December 4, 2017

Great post and I wish we had more of this sort of thing on Metafilter. I like knowing about current issues outside of the US and UK.

This reminds me of how upset my grandparents used to get about people speaking Spanish (not even to them, just to other Spanish speakers!). They would be flummoxed if they knew that most of the stores I go to have bilingual signs now.
posted by AFABulous at 12:03 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not to make this about the US! but just so I had a sense of scale, I found out that 74% of New Zealanders identify as "New Zealand European", Māori 14.9%, Asians 11.8% and non-Māori Pacific Islanders 7.4%.

In 2015, the percentage of native Spanish-speakers in the US was 13%. (all figures from Wikipedia)

So that gives me a sense of how unfair it is, given that Spanish is everywhere (although not usually in broadcast journalism).
posted by AFABulous at 12:13 AM on December 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

AFABulous, you are comparing apples with oranges comparing Māori and Spanish, which is a major world language. The vast majority of those 14.9% of NZers who are Māori are native English speakers. Estimates vary but only approximately 11-20% of Māori understand and speak Māori with fluency. We're talking 50 to 125,000 people not millions of people like Spanish in the US.
posted by dydecker at 12:48 AM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Forgot to post this as a more recent September update:

Te Ahu o Te Reo – The Health of the Māori Language (Nicola Bright, Ipu Kererū: Blog of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education)
posted by Start with Dessert at 12:49 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Grumpy white people trying to whitewash NZ society so that they can pretend the Maori culture doesn't exist? Do they know that their British ancestors were not the original occupants and had to sign an agreement in order to settle? (i.e. the Treaty of Waitangi?)
posted by greenhornet at 4:56 AM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is a different kind of nastiness than the Anglo-Saxon racist Americans' "Speak American!!1!!"[sic] when hearing, horrors, Spanish. Theirs is the "they come here taking our jobs" angle. While in NZ, the Maori were there, and these folk would erase that fact if they could. I bet some of them don't even realize that they have that feeling; the complaints about this being a change tell me they were so comfortable ignoring said fact and don't like reminders of it.

Obligatory XKCD: https://xkcd.com/84/ (Not to recenter this to the USA, I definitely don't intend that; the parallel is there, though.)
posted by seyirci at 6:07 AM on December 5, 2017

I’m late to this game, but man oh man, how can you say Te Rea is Ugly? My first real exposure to it was the Moana dub, particularly the version of “Shiny”, and I thought it was a beautiful language.

Not like German. My parents speak it to hide things from me (at age 45!) (not knowing I learned enough to understand them) and that language is so hässlich, dass es die Zunge zu Stein macht.
posted by mephron at 6:12 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Each language is beautiful, it's people using it to spread hate that make it ugly.
posted by Pendragon at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

their British ancestors were not the original occupants

I don’t think it would really make any difference if the British had arrived four hundred years before the Māori.

Each language is beautiful

I know that ought to be true, but if I’m honest there are passages in the St Matthew Passion that I skip because the German just sounds too much like someone spitting, sneezing, and trying to clear their throat all at the same time.
posted by Segundus at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

[I get the point that's being made but still, let's not get into how ugly some other language is or isn't.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:30 AM on December 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

happyinmotion: This really is old white guy yells at kids to get of his lawn.

Except it's more like grumpy old white guy moves into a historic Māori neighborhood and yells at the Māori kids speaking their native language, and anyone else who might want make sure their language doesn't disappear. In other words,

greenhornet: Grumpy white people trying to whitewash NZ society so that they can pretend the Maori culture doesn't exist? Do they know that their British ancestors were not the original occupants and had to sign an agreement in order to settle? (i.e. the Treaty of Waitangi?)

Thanks for this post, I love hearing about efforts to keep "non-dominant" cultures alive, and better, to help them spread, particularly where people of those cultures are leading the charge.

If you get prickly about a "non-dominant" culture being "forced" upon some part of society, it may help to remember that it's a rare opportunity for cultural push-back and balance, to avoid further cultural homogeneity. Also, there are plenty of reasons to learn a second language (education op-ed on The Telegraph (UK) from 2013), including improvement of your original language skills. (Not covered there: it makes a person more flexible and open to other cultures, among other harder to measure benefits.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I’m late to this game, but man oh man, how can you say Te Rea is Ugly?

Because most of the time, opinions about how languages sound are based on attitudes or beliefs about their speakers. English speakers say Russian is guttural, and French is romantic, although Russian has fewer "guttural" sounds than either English or French. Oh, some people do make fun of French--but the British do it more, because they make fun of France more.

I've had people tell me Russian is ugly who don't even know what Russian sounds like. I've had people make fun of Korean in front of me by making "ching chong" sounds; that's what people use to mock Chinese, you fucking racist, and they sound nothing alike.

So it is not surprising at all to me that racist assholes would say that Maori is ugly. It's a reminder of the people that they dislike, and all those attitudes get transposed to the language. This is also why I'm not surprised they're the ones complaining that it's hard to understand; they're not willing to. It's pretty well-known that attitudes affect how well people understand/learn foreign languages and accents.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2017 [10 favorites]

It's like they're engineering a modern creole! And why the hell not?

That got me wondering if there was ever a historical New Zealand pidgin or creole, something along the lines of Hawaiian Pidgin. I mean some Maori words showed up in New Zealand English when I was there 10+ years ago, but they were clearly loan words and the grammar I heard was strictly English.

I've only skimmed it but this article ("Was there ever a Māori English?" by Shaun F.D. Hughes) says:
Linguists working on New Zealand English have made strenuous attempts to identify any features of the English spoken by the indigenous or Māori population of New Zealand that could be considered as distinctively “Māori” without much success. But there is clear evidence from early texts that something that could be called a “contact pidgin” existed in the early decades of Māori-Pākehā(non-Māori) interaction although many Māori were from the beginning fluent speakers of English. Nevertheless, a long-standing assumption has persisted among the Pākehā population that there is an easily identifiable Māori variety of English, and that there is a considerable body of printed material to prove this “fact.” This paper concentrates on investigating when this “Māori English” first appeared in print in the 1890s, how it was constructed, and where it might have come from, together with what its characteristics were when it finally settled down to appear in a “standard” form during what might be considered as the heyday of “Māori English,” 1910–40. The concluding observations will consider why this “Māori English” declined even though it did not disappear from most printed texts until the 1970s.
The article mostly characterizes this “Māori English” as a literary construct made by Pākehā, a way to other the Māori. So totally different from this new phenomenon.
posted by Nelson at 8:48 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

And you just KNOW that a lot of the people complaining about this also tell non-English-speaking immigrants that they have to learn the language of the country they immigrated to.

The Mexicans were there before the English speaking Americans in some parts of the US, as well, notably California, Arizona, and Texas. I’m sure there are racists who would like to erase that fact.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:40 AM on December 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are words and phrases in various languages that don’t sound pretty to all native speakers. Lots of English speakers dislike the word “moist,” for example. And I’m sure lawyerese would sound pretty bad in any language. (Lawyerese does have a purpose, of course, but that purpose isn’t aesthetic)

People’s opinions of how pretty or ugly an entire language sounds, on the other hand, are pretty much based on their opinions of the people who speak that language. If you think Maori sounds ugly, it’s probably because you have a (possibly subconscious) negative opinion of Maori speaking people.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:53 AM on December 5, 2017

god if i fluently spoke an indigenous language you better believe that's all i would ever speak in the presence of white people.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:43 AM on December 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

I was back home a couple of weeks ago and loved hearing all the te Reo on National Radio and on TV. I was surprised by the TV show Moving Out with Tamati because the show was presented by the host in Māori with the property hunters saying their bits in English especially since it is one of Channel One's programs which is mainstream- I had assumed it was a Māori TV program.

For Te Wiki o te Reo Māori Rob Ruha's put together a Māori language playlist on Spotify including a te Reo version of Welcome Home. There is a link to the playlist in the below article.

From the article:
His playlist featured alternative Māori band SoccerPractise alongside another just emerging te reo singer, Dave Dobbyn. Dobbyn released his first Māori single on Friday, ahead of Māori Language Week, saying he hoped to produce more songs in te reo. His first single, a translation of the 2005 classic Welcome Home, had spawned a sort of obsession, he said. "This is now the fascination of a 60-year-old man who has thought maybe it's time to change."
posted by poxandplague at 3:47 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is one of my favorite articles on the subject, a good read for non-New-Zealanders:
Emma Espiner: The threat of Te Reo
What makes this one interesting to me is that the main target of the complaints has been the use of Māori phrases by Guyon Espiner on Radio New Zealand. Emma is his wife, and is Māori (unlike Guyon), and has some insightful observations.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:13 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had to read through this a bit to understand it wasn't about native people who didn't want their language appropriated by broadcasters.

I'm still a little confused about what exactly is going on -- are they using only the Māori without an English translation, or are they saying things in both languages like they do in the samples here?

posted by yohko at 4:32 PM on December 6, 2017

All the talk of the beauty of languages reminded me of this great 2002 TVNZ advert (0'30) that sought to change perceptions of te reo Māori. Unfortunately the English subtitles are chopped off the bottom but you should be able to get the gist.

I'm sure the Italian speakers out there will correct me, but if memory serves, the commercial finishes with this exchange:

"What language are they speaking"

"Māori, from New Zealand. Such a beautiful language"

posted by Start with Dessert at 5:13 PM on December 6, 2017

Yohko - from what I heard when I was home the presenters were introducing themselves and signing off in Māori . There are Māori words scattered throughout the news reports but there always have been and are standard such as iwi (tribe), marae (meeting house) and hui (meeting) among others which are all common and understood. But no, my understanding is Don Brash and others are getting all worked up because people are now saying hello and good bye in Māori .
posted by poxandplague at 1:53 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Or not. I've found this news report that features Guyon (I think) and just before he switched to the reporter he speaks in Maori. The Maori words used in the actual report are all commonly understood ones and then the reporter signs off in Maori. But the majority of the introduction and report are in English still.
posted by poxandplague at 2:11 AM on December 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just a quick update...

Mihingarangi Forbes: Did you know Rawiri Paratene or "Paka" from Whale Rider delivered the Reo Māori Petition to Parliament in 1972? Here's his response to reo Māori conversation happening.

Also, some good news: Auckland universities 'caught off guard' as popularity of te reo Māori classes surges, institutes say.
posted by Start with Dessert at 3:13 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a rather affecting essay from The Spinoff:

Te Reo is more than just a language – it is an art, a piece of our history, and one of the few living connections we have to generations past. A pepeha is more than just words – it is a summation of how we are connected to every living and non-living part of the earth, and the feeling of this connection is indescribable
posted by Start with Dessert at 1:18 AM on December 26, 2017

MeTa. Congrats, Start with Dessert :)

Also, this story is wonderful. This post had made me think of this woman, but I couldn't remember who she was:
More than 30 years after she won the right to say "kia ora" at the New Zealand Post Office, Rangamarie Naida Glavish will be made a dame.

In 1984 Glavish was a toll operator at the Post Office who dared to answer the phone using a Māori greeting.

Her supervisor wasn't pleased with the "non-standard expression", and threatened her with dismissal. As she was renting a Post Office house, losing her job would have meant eviction as well....

Glavish sparked a national debate. Airline pilots started greeting passengers with "kia ora". People flooded the Post Office switchboards, insisting they only wanted to talk to the "kia ora lady". Overseas toll operators used their indigenous greetings when calling New Zealand.
Read the whole article, she did lots of other cool stuff, including cultural reform of hospitals. Also worth noting how much untranslated te reo appears in the article.
posted by Pink Frost at 1:16 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also if I may come back to some comments from a while back:

AFABulous: The Spanish/Māori comparison is interesting in terms of population but the situation is different - Māori is an official language and NZ has the Treaty, which arguably protects te reo as a taonga (treasure), so I'd argue that even if the Māori population was much smaller, the language would still be important. (OTOH, I suspect Americans speak better Spanish than NZers speak te reo, and Hispanic Americans speak better Spanish than Māori NZers speak te reo).

Eyebrows McGee: I'm sure most of those complaining understand most of the words (Brash surely does). They just don't want to hear them.

Greenhornet: not sure if that's a rhetorical question, but they are definitely well aware of the Treaty of Waitangi. The real issue is what it means, and there's probably an interesting FPP there, once you get into the weirdness. A short [on preview, not] take:

1835: The British (Busby) advise some Northern Māori chiefs to issue a Declaration of Independence, partially directed at French influence in NZ and partially at lawless Brits.
1839: The British government declares NZ part of the colony of New South Wales
1840: The British propose the Treaty of Waitangi - to formally establish British settlement. Drafted by Hobson (not a lawyer) and translated into te reo by Williams (a missionary).
Northern chiefs sign the Māori version as do (eventually) some other chiefs in the rest of the country. (Around 500 sign the Māori version, far fewer the English one).

The real issue is the difference between the Māori and English versions. Those on the left often favour the Māori version, which protects the sovereignty of the chiefs. This view has been broadly dominant politically and in the public sector since the 1980s - I'm not sure what the majority of the public thinks, though.

Those on the right essentially argue for assimilation - that Māori should have no special privileges. Māori surrendered sovereignty to the Crown, and have the same rights and responsibilities as other British citizens.

This is where Brash comes in - he has a lobby group called Hobson's Pledge, which takes Hobson's statement at the Treaty signing - "we are all one people" as the most important part of the whole process. Heavily implied that "one people" means "and we do things OUR way". There are also arguments that the current interpretation of the Māori version is historically inaccurate, and not what the 19th century Māori meant.

Where it gets even weirder is the right-wing conspiracy theories - which hold that the real version of the Treaty was written by Hobson before the accepted version, but suppressed - by who or why I'm not quite sure. Nor is it clear why a lost version would take precedence over the actual signed version.

These people also think that NZ was originally colonised by Celtic settlers, sometime around 800-1000CE, meaning that Māori claims of prior occupation don't count. "Evidence" of this is also being suppressed by the government and left-wing historians. They appear to be influenced by the sovereign citizen movement and repeat similar claims to that group.

(A less extreme version of this claims that the Moriori had settled NZ before Māori, meaning that anything settlers did to Māori was OK, because the Māori had done the same themselves. Actual historians have known since the 1940s that the Moriori never settled mainland NZ, only the Chatham Islands - where they were indeed treated very badly by Māori invaders).
posted by Pink Frost at 1:44 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pink Frost:

Thanks! The "Kia ora lady" is briefly mentioned in the NZ History article in the FPP on the history of the language. I was stoked to hear that she had been recognized for her contributions.

There is much more to explore in regards to the Māori revival and the history of Māori attempts to reclaim their culture and socio-political position.

With regards to Don Brash, I feel like New Zealand dodged a bullet when he failed in his bid to become PM. What a horribly entitled and divisive man. I'm becoming much less forgiving of a media that chooses so poorly in giving their megaphone to such people.

I'm attempting to learn some te reo myself using Scotty Morrison's Māori Made Easy book. There is an online element as well which may be useful for any others who want to get their pronunciation right.
posted by Start with Dessert at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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