Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Te Reo - Tokenism?

It’s Maori Language Week.
Nupe, I didn’t hear any pre-publicity about the week either! I just turned on tv yesterday to catch the morning weather forecast, and was hit with a deluge of maori...but no English sub-titles to inform the 90% of New Zealanders who don’t speak maori!
This year’s theme is hospitality (manaakitanga). Maori Language Commission CEO Glenis Philip-Barbara says manaakitanga is about how to make people feel welcome and how to give regard to and care for others when hosting visitors: "This is a very important tenet of Maori custom and identity that’s positively influenced notions of good old 'Kiwi' hospitality." But surely this key element needs to be drummed into various radical elements within maoridom, before force-feeding it to the long-suffering general populous!!
The campaign’s been running since 1975…but with the continuing decline in numbers of Maori speakers, there are suggestions that the campaign is having no effect. Propping up this dying language costs the NZ public over $250-million annually, yet the latest Waitangi Tribunal report suggests even more support is needed!
As an indicator that sport is held in higher regard than teaching maori language, the Ministry of Education this year altered the school terms to accommodate the Rugby World Cup! The first two terms were extended so third-term holidays would fall during the semifinals and final of the event, and in turn Maori Language Week was brought forward from its usual last week in July.
Last year's theme was Te Mahi Kai - the language of food. Combining food with hospitality this week, one supermarket chain has translated 20 different food categories, provided customers with some phrases to learn, and is giving away free maori phrase books.
I saw one of their ads last night - God, it seemed so patronising! I’m not sure how learning te reo will help my grocery shopping: it smacks (like the weather forecast) of commercial tokenism. But hey, if there’s a sudden upswing in people speaking maori, or a significant decline in racial abuse from fringe maori…well, I’ll be happy to stand corrected.
In the meantime, like many non-PC NZers this week, I’ll just shake my head in bemusement. You can lead a horse to water but...

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