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  • Linguists and Language Maintenance:Pasifika Languages in Manukau, New Zealand1
  • Melenaite Taumoefolau, Donna Starks, Karen Davis, and Allan Bell

Manukau City is the most language-rich area in New Zealand, yet it has to date not been the subject of any detailed sociolinguistic study. This paper reports on pilot work for a major project on the languages of Manukau, and addresses the question of whether linguists can contribute to language maintenance efforts. It consists of an analysis of New Zealand census data on language use in the area, supported by qualitative data collected from eight pilot interviews. The 1996 New Zealand census was the first to contain a language question, and we show how this provides background information on language use and language shift in Manukau. The census results depict the use of both ethnic languages and English in the four main Pasifika communities-Samoan, Cook Islands, Tongan, and Niuean. Age grading of self-reported proficiency in the Pasifika languages indicates the differing degrees to which they are undergoing shift or maintaining their standing. Qualitative data gathered in interviews with community members provide some possible explanations of how these Pasifika languages are shifting to English. The final section of the paper looks at the issue of whether and what linguists can contribute to language maintenance.


There are two sections to this paper: section 1 reports on a project that is currently investigating the state of health of the Samoan, Cook Islands Maori, Tongan, and Niuean languages in Manukau City. We present the findings from the pilot study that preceded the main project. It consists of the analysis of the 1996 New Zealand census data on language use in these four Pasifika communities, supplemented by qualitative comments from one older and one younger member from each community. [End Page 15]

Section 2 of the paper addresses the basis of one of the stated goals of the Languages of Manukau project. The project has as its twin aims "to investigate the use of and attitudes to the four main Pasifika languages in the Manukau region, and to contribute to their maintenance." We examine the assumptions behind the second goal by asking what linguists can do, if anything, to help the language maintenance efforts. The question becomes all the more important in situations where linguists are not native speakers of the languages to be maintained. In such situations, communities have been known to question the authority and qualifications of foreign linguists to effectively carry out research on, and make informed statements and recommendations about, the endangered language. In cases where linguists have not been seen to be of substantial help, it is taken as confirmation that they indeed lack the qualifications to intervene successfully in language maintenance efforts. There is also the view that issues of language survival may be peripheral to-or even lie outside the scope of-theoretical linguistics as it is currently formulated. In the Pacific this has probably led to a decrease in the number of linguists concerned with language maintenance, or at least fewer presentations and publications on language endangerment issues.

1. The Pasifika Peoples in New Zealand.

In this paper, Pasifika people refers to Polynesian communities other than New Zealand Māori. The four largest Pasifika communities in New Zealand are the Samoan, Cook Islands, Tongan, and Niuean peoples. Together they make up only 5 percent of the New Zealand population, but in Manukau, they make up 20 percent (see figure 1).2 Manukau City lies to the south of Auckland, which is New Zealand's largest city. Manukau has more people of different cultures and languages than any other part of New Zealand. T hese f our communities a re t he largest P asifika g roups in Manukau, and represent a substantial proportion of the total New Zealand population of the groups. For this reason it is likely that trends we note in Manukau will apply to other regions of the country.

Figure 2 provides a broader picture of the Pasifika languages. It contrasts the population in the home countries with that in New Zealand. It shows there are large numbers of Samoans, both in the islands (161,298) and in New...