New statistics on health of the Maori language

Julia de Bres Julia.deBres at
Tue Jul 24 19:50:13 UTC 2007

Maori language speakers finding greater voice
5:00AM Tuesday July 24, 2007
By Yvonne Tahana
Maori broadcasting

The standard of spoken Maori is improving among Maori people, a survey shows.

Six years ago, 58 per cent of Maori were able to speak the bare basics and language proficiency was limited to "kia ora" and little else, the Te Puni Kokiri survey says.

But the 2006 survey on the Health of the Maori Language, which interviewed 3858 people, shows the percentage of those who can speak no more than a few words has fallen to 48 per cent.

At the same time, those who reported speaking "very well" or "well" rose from 9 per cent to 14 per cent, and the "fairly well" category rose from 11 per cent to 13 per cent.

There were also significant increases in the amount of language spoken to children in the home. In 2001, 18 per cent of those surveyed spoke Maori to preschool children, 15 per cent to primary school-aged children and 17 per cent to secondary-aged children. Those numbers have risen to 30, 26 and 22 per cent respectively.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori Maori Language Commission chief executive Huhana Rokx said she was pleased with the results but it was clear there was still a huge amount of work to be done.

And for the former kohanga reo teacher with two grandchildren, that work begins in the home. "I'm helping my children bring up their children. If I want them to have the all-round language experience it means supporting my whanau in the home."

Exposing younger people - who now make up a third of the Maori population - to native speakers who tend to be over 65 but represent less than 5 per cent of the population - is key to ensuring the health of the language, she said.

Often because their grandchildren spoke English, it was easier for them to communicate in English. But children were missing out on the colour of the language that could only be learned from those fluent speakers.

"We need to be using our kiwaha [idioms], all those things in a natural way. We need to be doing it in the whanau."

Te Reo - decline and revival

* Early 1800s: Maori is the language of trade between settlers and Maori.
* 1860s: Maori have their own newspapers in te reo, but English starts to become the dominant language.
* 1920s: Use suppressed in schools and children punished for speaking their native language.
* 1960s: Urban drift means 60 per cent of Maori live in cities; te reo suffers.
* 1975: Maori Language Week begins.
* 1978: The country's first bilingual school opens in Ruatoki.
* 1980s: Fewer than 20 per cent of Maori know enough of the language to be considered native speakers.
* 1982: First kohanga reo (language nest) opens, kura kaupapa follow.
* 1984: Controversy erupts when national tolls operator Naida Glavish is demoted for saying "kia ora" to callers. She is later reinstated.
* 1987: Maori made an official language of New Zealand.
* 2004: Maori Television launched. source:

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list