Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? (part 6)

Peter Keegan pkeegan at
Sun Feb 9 11:55:04 UTC 1997

>>It has nothing to do with skin-color, rather, it is birthright.

>Birthright. "A right of possession or privilege on has from birth, esp. as
>the eldest son." (Concise Oxford Dictionary)

 My use of the term "birthright" is a translation of a Maori concept. I.e.
 "whakapapa" ;  perhaps "genealogy" is a better translation. Neither terms
 convey the affect whakapapa has on Maori individuals. (email me for a full
 explanation of the concept)

 >people and speak *their* language is mere colonialist arrogance?  For my
 >own part I don't really see the difference between a white New Zealander
 >speaking Maori, on the one hand, and a Chinese resident of the Isle of
 >Lewis speaking Scots Gaelic, on the other -- if one is acceptable, so is
 >the other.

 I will try to clarify. We Maori both culturally and legally "own" our
 language, and have control over how it is taught in schools and who teaches

 Legal ownership results from the New Zealand government recognizing a treaty
 signed in 1840 between Maori and the Crown (i.e. British). The Maori version
 of the treaty guaranteed Maori would have continued access and protection
 of  our "taonga"( "taonga" roughly translate to "treasured possession",
 i.e. land, fisheries, scared sites etc etc.) We were able to convince the
 courts to rule that our language is also considered a "taonga". Thus the
 government supports Maori language revitalization efforts and openly states
 it is committed to biculturalism.

 We know that many endangered languages do not have the support of
 governments.  (Oddly, Maori is the only official language of New Zealand,
 despite English being spoken by 95%+ of the population.)

 What is the official & legal status of Scots Gaelic ?

Returning back to Nancy's proposal for a volume of early field workers to
collate their experiences. I still have some major concerns. While this may
be of historical value, my concern is that is it really appropriate to
encourage another wave of Western linguists to go into the field ? i.e. In
an ideal world I would argue that we need to send indigenous linguists who
have been trained in the West. Indigenous linguists are more likely to be
accepted (i.e. they are already are bicultural, or multicultural) and are
more likely to respect the cultures and wishes of those indigenous groups
in the field.

The discussion has shown it appears to be difficult to encourage any
Linguist (Western or otherwise) to go into the field.

Peter Keegan

P.S.  some Maori authorities have commented in this weekend in New Zealand
newspapers that there are perhaps only 10,000 fluent speakers of Maori left.
I suspect many other endangered languages are also not doing well in 1997 !
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