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  • Te Reo Māori:The Past 20 Years and Looking Forward1
  • Tamati Reedy

This paper outlines the current population situation of Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand as a backdrop to the developments of the Māori language revitalization efforts over the past two decades, and then traverses some issues that will affect the language as it moves into the new millennium.

Māori Population.

In 1840 when the Māori people signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown, Māori was the main ethnic group, with a population numbering between 200,000 and 250,000. But by the turn of the century, swamped by land-hungry British colonists and the outbreak of wars and diseases, the Māori population had fallen to a low of 42,000. A memorial stands on One Tree Hill in the City of Auckland dedicated to the memory of "a dying race."

The 1996 Census has shown, however, the resilience of the Māori. That census showed that close to 580,000, or 17.3% of the total New Zealand population said they were of Māori descent (Statistics New Zealand, 1998:14). The Māori population increased the most during the 1950s and 1960s and has slowed during the past two decades. The projected figures show that the Māori population will reach one million, or 22% of the total population, in about 50 years, despite the slowing of the Māori growth rate from the current 1.9% to 0.7%.

The population profile is important as an indicator of how future trends in the Māori language may move.

Te Reo: Māori Language Revitalization.

Developments of Te Reo Māori in Aotearoa over the past 20 years have been marked by a number of milestones gained and new challenges presented. The historical issues that have affected the Māori language throughout its 200 years of contact with the English-speaking peoples have been well documented and traversed in the literature (see, for example, Williams 1975, Biggs 1965, and more recently Benton 1991 and Taura Whiri i Te Reo 1995) and will not be commented on at length except in helping to explain current issues that have obvious historical influences. Much of [End Page 157] the early literature relates largely the hostile attitudes of the early colonists to the Māori language, and the debilitating effects of corporal punishment on generations of Māori-speaking children in the schooling system. Nevertheless, much valuable work was done in collecting words and their meanings and usage by the early collectors, and we remain indebted to their efforts.

The doctoral theses of Biggs and Hohepa in the 1960s present the first efforts by Māori to bring rigorous scientific analyses to the Māori language, and since then Reedy and Mutu have followed on. Other non-Māori linguists, such as Harlow and Bauer in the 1990s have produced invaluable contributions to the analysis of the Māori language. A substantial corpus of papers written about the language now exists.

In describing the situation of the Māori language, Benton's language survey conducted between 1973 and 1979 stands as a landmark in sociolinguistic work in New Zealand.2 He surveyed members of 6,470 Māori families, covering over 33,000 individuals throughout the North Island of New Zealand. Of the household heads (4,136) interviewed, only two language domains were identified as still holding some security for these fluent speakers: the marae, and certain religious observances.3 Apart from identifying other domains where Māori was in "ambiguous" use-the home, school, literacy, work, and friends-Benton comments on the educational forces that gave rise to this state of affairs, noting that "the exclusion of Māori from formal education, and particularly from the teaching and learning of contemporary subject matter for so long, made it easier for even otherwise fluent speakers of Māori to discuss and write about many practical and theoretical issues in English. At the same time, the virtual exclusion of Māori from radio and television and the obstacles to establishing Māori speaking communities in urban settings, had made it difficult for...


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