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Over the last few years, and especially since the current Government was elected late in 2020, there has been an increasing trend to use the Maori language where there are perfectly acceptable English alternatives.

Radio New Zealand is a particularly egregious offender: even though the taxpayer has provided many millions of dollars to support Maori-language radio stations, and a Maori TV channel, those of us who speak not a word of the Maori language and have not the slightest interest in learning it are forced to listen to a number of Maori words and phrases with no translation provided.

And the use of Maori words is becoming more and more common throughout the public sector.

Victoria University of Wellington recently placed a large newspaper advertisement for a “Tumu Whakarae – Vice-Chancellor”. The ad had 10 paragraphs of text in it – five in English and five in the Maori language. Since it is inconceivable that the university would appoint as Vice Chancellor somebody who could speak Maori but could not speak English, half the ad was a total waste of money – expensive virtue signaling at the taxpayers’ expense.

Auckland Transport has recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that all announcements on the Auckland rail system are made in both Maori and English, while a little earlier Auckland Council had spent thousands of dollars to ensure that elevators in the Council Head Office announced the floor levels in both Maori and English. And this spending by a Council which claims that rates must be increased well above the inflation rate because of all its allegedly high priority projects.

A few days ago, somebody sent me a pamphlet she had received after she had had a Covid test. On one side of the page there were some instructions in the Maori language, just in case there are any people who can read Maori but cannot read English. On the side which was, ostensibly, in English, Maori words were scattered liberally around, sometimes with a translation into English but often not.

One column headed “Set the Tikanga” provided the following advice:

  • “Decide what the tikanga is for your whare so everyone is clear.

  • “Hold a whanau hui so everyone knows how to manaaki each other if someone gets sick.

  • “Communicate your expectations with your manuhiri e.g. text or message before they arrive, beep from the gate, wait in the waka.”

At another point, the English side of the advice continues “Prepare your pataka” and “Make sure your pataka has plenty of kai in case you need to isolate”.

And of course, without the slightest attempt to ascertain whether the public want to change our country’s name, the Government increasingly refers to our country as “Aotearoa”, or perhaps “Aotearoa New Zealand”. The report of the Climate Change Commission doesn’t use the words “New Zealand” anywhere in its several hundred pages. This is despite polls showing that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders (some two-thirds) want our country’s name to remain “New Zealand”. And that the original Maori words for “New Zealand”, as used in the Treaty of Waitangi, were “Nu Tirani”.

It appears clear that the Government is hell-bent on encouraging all New Zealanders to learn the Maori language – a language which is of no practical value to the vast majority of New Zealanders – and that in a situation where far too many people going through our education system cannot read or write English – a language which is of fundamental value to all New Zealanders, vitally important for communicating with other New Zealanders and indeed of great value communicating with hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The last National Government, accepting advice that learning a second language may have some advantages for the development of young brains, had a plan to encourage schools to provide a second language, with schools being able to choose which of ten languages they wished to teach. Labour, apparently fearing that very few parents would want to have their children learn Maori if they instead could learn a language which would actually be useful for their future careers, vetoed that plan, and has devoted huge effort to ensure that every school provides some instruction in the Maori language.

The reality is that for the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders the Maori language has no practical value and that, despite heroic efforts to revive the language, it is spoken by a diminishing proportion of Maori.

The international evidence suggests that even making a dying language compulsory does not ensure its survival. After the formation of the Irish Free State in 1921, Irish was made compulsory. Not only did this fail to achieve the hoped-for revitalisation of Irish, the language is currently in near-terminal decline. And the same is true of other languages where compulsion has been tried – Tamil among the Tamil-speaking population of Singapore, Luxembourgish in Luxembourg and so on.

Personally, I have always supported taxpayer resources being used to teach the Maori language to those who wish to learn it, but I strongly oppose foisting it on the rest of us. We in New Zealand are extremely fortunate to have English as our predominant language, the language of science, the language of aviation, the language of finance, and the language which will get you understood in almost every country in the world.

Don Brash

27 January 2022

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