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Maori language week – the gummint must “save it”.

  • July 27th, 2012

I am a honky for balance (as Willie Jackson once called me) in a Maori language week special screening on TV One at 10am on Sunday 29th. In filming at Te Papa on Monday my panel debated whether "the government is killing off te reo through lack of interest". 

"Yes!" was the overwhelming answer from the audience. I saw only 3 nay votes. More on the political significance of that later.

Despite not managing to carry the audience, as I've come to expect of Maori broadcasting the filming was enjoyable. They explore issues more open-mindedly than mainstream media. They have the time to be thorough. Their prism is race, so they do not have to find time for all the facets of an issue. Facets they choose get the time needed. But the open-mindedness is the bonus. Watch the show and you will see – the questioning covers the full spectrum, without the anxious self-censorship that draws the vigour from MSM interviews. 

With some exceptions (one of which you'll see 'on my case' during the show) Maori in public affairs are often more resilient, more generous spirited, and more fun to debate with than their 'sickly white liberal' suck-alongs.

When asked to participate I was also asked to pen a few paragraphs on how I would approach the moot. Clearly they expected or wanted me to be hostile to Te Reo.

Here is an edited and supplemented version of what I sent: 
"I like to understand and to be able to use Maori words. Some are perfect, filling needs where there is no precise equivalent in English. Mana, kapai, whakapapa, kai moana, whanau, kaumatua etc enrich communication.

I like to hear Maori at Maori functions, and the familiarity of greetings that mark membership of the tribe of New Zealanders, though whether that is very different from a masonic handshake I am not sure.

But I find it arrogant and discourteous to be subjected to long Maori discourse in gatherings where few people speak it and all speak English. On some occasions it is deliberately affronting. I worked in Sweden and Austria on my OE. Striking for me was the courtesy of those I worked with. Though I was of much lower status (e.g. paid deckhand on a racing yacht)  they would often conduct their conversations in English for long periods, simply so that I did not feel left out. 
But you no doubt want me as a black hat, a representative of the unbelievers who illustrate why your cause is so long and difficult, and why it needs Maori Language Week. You want me to exemplify the forces to be overcome. I suspect I'll suit your purpose.
I see little gain for New Zealand in the forced and subsidised promotion of a language that its promoters want to keep as fossilised property. It might be different it Maori language supporters were generous of spirit, and genuinely welcomed the efforts of others to use it. The “give it a go” campaign was great in principle. But it was undermined every time there was a carping complaint about mispronunciation of Paraparaumu, or preciosity about Whanganui. This insistence that offence is caused by imperfect use is the giveaway. The promoters are not really interested in the primary use of language as the means of understanding each other, of communicating ideas and learning. They are not focussed on language as the access to the stored up wisdom and research and experience of mankind. They do not glory in the achievement we have in understanding each other in a way no other animal ever has. I think they see it as a supplement to body language and dance and gesture that many animals have, but for its crude symbolic force, not because it enables cooperation and coordination.
Preciousness about Te Reo is driven by the same human vice as creates caste and snobbery and race hatred, namely the desire to create lots of markers to distinguish “them” from “us”. Kids do it in the playground, inventing secret languages to create outsiders and insiders. Priests did it for centuries with Latin, until the German Martin Luther made that secret knowledge redundant by translating the Bible into the vernacular.
In the foetid world of NZ academia and the bureaucracy, te Reo can be a one-upping ticket to smugness or even intolerance. Plainly the purpose is not communication in long public oration where there is no possibility that any listener will know it better than English. I saw it in Parliament, supposed to be a crucible for communication at its most effective, and most important, where the objective should be to be as persuasive of your fellow citizens as possible. Maori was instead used to demonstrate how little you wanted to persuade or to share, and how much you wanted to differentiate yourself without reasoning. A compensation was the sotto voce commentary of my neighbour, a cynical NZ First Maori MP, on the oratory of the try-hards whose rhetoric in late-learnt Maori was apparently pathetic. Using uncompelling language in a chamber where every person could communicate freely in a common tongue with every other person whose vote was desired, showed  that its use was a bid for privilege, not agreement (though that was demanded as "respect'). I fear that it was also used by some as a way of avoiding performance measurement , by individuals whose representation and persuasion skills might not have earned them Parliamentary seats on merit.

The drive to complicate our printing with macrons is another affectation that has nothing to do with improving the effectiveness of communication. It is like the long and useless campaign of the Academie Francaise to keep French pure including by inventing new words for things that the French have not invented and which have already been labelled. There is a tweeness in much of this when it comes from pakeha that makes it hard to resist mockery.
Perhaps none of this matters. The current aggression on Maori language may be just a pendulum swing. Despite our egalitarian tradition that kept the lid on division by class accent, there may not be much harm if we have a few risible years when our new class marker is the ability to pretend naturalness in communicating in Maori. I can accept that so long as we do not get trapped into a perverted class structure, with language being used long term as a barrier to distinguish them from us, just as class accents do in class ridden societies.
This view of language as property was blessed by some of our judges in a silly period, but more recently the own goal nature of that attitude was typified for me by the witless reaction to the intended use by LEGO of Maori names. If there had been a genuine interest in the promotion of the language for communication, it would have been welcomed as a great way to get kids familiar with the vowel usages and familiar with the tones. Instead it was treated as infringement of a proprietary secret knowledge. Language thrives when it is used, when it is comfortable and conveys the same meaning to speaker and hearer.  When the pretended guardians of the health of the language threatened LEGO into abandoning the plan, I knew that it was probably doomed. Those who want it kept pure to function as the property of an elect, their ID or passport, will never promote it as a genuine open medium of communication.

So I can be your jarring note, if that is what you want. If not  you'll be able to get someone more comfortable."

In the result, there was plenty of contention though without enough time for much discussion of the issues I put forward.



I hope it's not too late, but I'm agreeing with you more and more.


You hit the nail on the head when you say, ‘Preciousness about Te Reo is driven by the…desire to create lots of markers to distinguish “them” from “us”’.

The question is, why?

You answer this most profoundly when you say it is to ‘to differentiate yourself without reasoning.’ This is, of course, the motivation behind all social privileges such as those based on accent, class and race.

Far better, I think, to differentiate on the more rational basis of ability and achievement.

  • Roger Strong
  • July 28th, 2012
  • 10:13 pm

I think that this is the main driver in the insistance some people have to pronounce place names 'properly' – it gives the person correcting others  a real sense of power. I found this when I owned a native plant nursery. Some customers – usually Maori , would correct me when I named a plant usuing its Maori name-although in truth many plants have different names depending on the tribal area they were found . I usually tolerated this rudeness for only a short time and then just referred to them by their latin names – this usually ended the conversation quite quickly.


Come in here Joshua, with your monocultural false constitution, because everywhere I look in New Zealand,  I see Asians, and few Maori, its a numbers game Joshua,
I heard that nearly  20% of Auckland university students are Asian, and then your cousin marries them Asian, and then they are in Parliament for gods sake, and they have a vote, isn't it strange, how bad,
 Chris Trottersky still thinks we are a bicultural society begging for forgiveness,   I think not.  we will speak the way we are,  
The Maori language is dead


Dear reader,
please understand that Stephen Franks is one of the few blogs that has not censored me.
Kiwi Politico diatribe will not print anything from anything with a number resembling me, They only accept left wing drivel politico intellect. Chris Trottersky  censors regularly, Many of them censor.
Stephen Franks does not censor comments.
Should anyone wish to ask me further, my email is 


for readers who would like to be further confused by intellectual language.
the book 'Perlmann's Silence' by the writer Pascal Mercier. 
This is a funny book into the way we misinterpret each other and build war upon that misunderstanding of meaning, and contrivances within. languages in the book are  English, German, French, Russian, a good read if you want to get a grip back on how small our little world of Maori actually is  

  • Daniel McCaffrey
  • August 22nd, 2012
  • 11:15 pm

Well said, insightful and true. 

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