He Whakapapa Reo Maori - Short History of Maori language

Maori is the foundation language of Aotearoa, the ancestral language of tangata whenua (indigenous people) and a taonga guaranteed protection under the Treaty of Waitangi.

During the 19th and early 20th century Maori language was the main language of communication. However, the establishment of schools saw Maori children being taught almost entirely in English. An English language only policy was often strictly enforced through physical punishment.

Urban migration

During the 1940s-1970s Maori migrated from rural communities to urban centres. English language was seen by many Maori as the key to wealth, increased social standing and better standards of living.

Many Maori parents stopped speaking Maori to their children. This, together with policies which favoured English as the dominant language, resulted in a massive language loss within the Maori population who moved from speaking Maori to English.

Language initiatives

By the 1970s, it was predicted that Maori would soon be a language without native speakers. This caused grave concern among Maori, resulting in initiatives to revitalise the language including Te Ataarangi (a language learning system), kohanga reo (Maori language pre-schools), kura kaupapa Maori (Maori language schools) and Maori broadcasting.

Maori Language Act

In 1987, the Maori Language Act declared Maori to be an official language of New Zealand and established the Maori Language Commission - Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori to promote the growth of Maori language.

Research

Recent research suggests that the number of Maori speakers has stabilised with approximately 130,000 Maori indicating some ability to speak Maori. This represents about 25% of the Maori population. However, the number of fluent speakers is significantly less and the situation requires concentrated efforts to ensure that the language survives. It is hoped that the establishment of the Maori Television Service along with other initiatives in recent years will bear further fruits for the revitalisation of Maori language.

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