Tuesday, January 31, 2006

One language for all?

National's race-relations policy seems to have moved from "one law for all" to "one language for all" (or maybe "speak English or die") with Wayne Mapp criticisng Statistics New Zealand's decision to offer a joint English / Maori census form in some areas as politically correct bilingualism. According to Mapp,

Statistics New Zealand has decided our country should not only have two official languages, but that we should also become bilingual... When did we have the debate on whether New Zealand should become bilingual?

While the Hansard isn't online, I'd hazard a guess at around the time Parliament passed the Maori Language Act 1987. This made Maori an official language of New Zealand, and explicitly allowed it to be used in legal proceedings. Since then, we've also seen wider use in Parliament and by government departments, and a growing (but still far from complete) tendency towards making government services more accessible to Maori speakers through greater use of the Maori language. Why? Because that's what being an "official language" means.

Statistics New Zealand's use of bilingual census forms is nothing unusual - and nothing new. As the article points out, they first started using them in 1996 - when National was in government. What has changed is that they're using them more widely - as the default in areas where Maori is widely spoken rather than being available only on request. And I don't see any problem with this. Unlike Mapp, the sight of written Maori does not fill me with fear and loathing and a sense of cultural insecurity; instead, it's an affirmation of New Zealand identity, as well as a useful practical step to ensure that everyone in New Zealand can participate in the census.

But then, I get the impression that Maori's ability to participate in the census (and by extension, government and society) is not exactly foremost in Wayne Mapp's mind. Instead, his "anti-PC" crusade is all about returning to the "good old days", when New Zealand was run by dead white males, for dead white males, and anyone who wasn't a dead white male (women, Maori, immigrants) could bugger off. Fortunately, our society has come a long way since then. Unfortunately, Wayne Mapp (and from the sound of it, his leader) doesn't seem to have realised it yet.


It was suggested last week that he was going to talk about the economy.

It's probably become clear to them since that their economic policies (making the rich that bit richer and most NZers poorer and more insecure) aren't exactly a vote winner.

Still, if Don goes on in this way he'll be back to corned beef sandwiches in a bedsit.

Posted by Rich : 1/31/2006 02:21:00 PM

not sure how you can be critical of wayne mapps position because I jsut heard him explain it on the radio and it seems it is just a vague technicalthing regarding hte difference betwen offering the survey to everyone and I guess offering it to certain people.
Not sure anyone cares about the difference but that also makes it immune to alot of critisism.

Posted by Genius : 1/31/2006 06:14:00 PM

... and while we're at it, when did we have the debate about being a monolingual society? Or that our monolingualism should mean we all talk English? What a studid statement (hey - I know what I'm talkin' about).

I agree with m'lud that bilingualism is symbolism, but I disagree that it is empty - it's a little like sincerely saying that you are sorry to the parents of someone you ran over when you were drunk - it doesn't bring them back, but it helps just that little bit; I also agree that Maori language is dead - it's a little like latin though. The important bits will live on and give NZ culture a richer flavour than it might otherwise develop on it's own.

Posted by Frank Stupid : 1/31/2006 07:55:00 PM

Maori is not dead - if you spend much time in the provinces, particularly the East Coast or Northland, you'll hear it a lot, and certainly I come across it a fair bit in my work.

My lack of understanding has put me in an embarassing spot a few times - I know enough to write/say a few key phrases, but if the recipient of my faultering te reo replies...

Actually I think it all boils down to respect. If you're travelling in a foreign country, other than the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA, you would probably try to pick up a few phrases in the local lingo (hello, thank you, which way to the embassy because I'm about to be deported, etc). With immigrant groups Pakeha will often try to use some words of their own language with them if dealing with them formally - so how are Maori different?

Oh that's right, generations of colonisation mean that we (Pakeha) are somehow superior, and thus have a right to declare their taonga (language, culture, whatever) dead.

Posted by Span : 2/01/2006 06:17:00 AM

To be fair, "dead" in this sense is a technical linguistic term meaning "no longer has a sizable community of users for whom it's their first language", not dead as in "This is an ex-parrot!"

So Maori probably is a dead language, but that doesn't make Mapp any less stupid. For one thing, if your country has two official languages, isn't bilingualism by definition officially encouraged? And as Mr Stupid pointed out, when did we have the debate about being a monolingual society? That debate was "Te Riri Pakeha", wasn't it? At least the bilingualism debate didn't require a shitload of heavily-armed British soldiers to decide it, so perhaps we have made some progress.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 2/01/2006 07:16:00 AM


Printing a few census forms in Maori, if it increases census returns, is probably considered a good use of money by the department of statistics.

But, if we're aruging about wasting taxpayer dollars, it might be worth considering the constructive output of Wayne Mapp relative to his salary.


Posted by Matt : 2/01/2006 04:35:00 PM

I'm not sure what a "dead" language is, but I'm pretty sure that a language that is spoken by over 130,000 people doesn't count. At the 2001 census, 24% of Maori spoke Te Reo, and over 20,000 Maori live in area units (sorry for the stats jargon) where more than a third of them speak Te Reo. Most of those are in Northland and the East Coast, but even in Wellington there are significant strongholds of the language.

Posted by Tom : 2/02/2006 04:30:00 PM