Te reo Māori in Parliament

An interesting post by William Asiata on the use of te reo Māori in the New Zealand Parliament (also with some interesting history of Hansard, not covered here).

Te Pūnaha Matatini: Te Reo Māori in New Zealand Parliament, as recorded in the Hansard Reports

As one of two summer 2017-18 student interns for the Kōrero Māori project with Dragonfly Data ScienceTe Hiku Media and Te Pūnaha Matatini, we were assigned to help collect corpus of te reo Māori text that would be used to train the written language model component of a te reo Māori computer natural language processing engine. When ready, the natural language processor will be used as the base for making software like Apple’s artificially intelligent ‘Siri’, that will be capable of understanding te reo Māori.

One text source in particular was identified that is publicly available online and known to contain te reo Māori – that is the New Zealand Parliamentary Debates as recorded in the Hansard reports.

The written record of Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) make up over 700 volumes of text that span from 1854 to the present day, and daily reports continue to be published onlinewithin a fews hours of each new thing spoken in Parliament.

Across the 700+ volumes, the programme has sorted through over 420 million words to detect about 7400 speech segments that are at least 50% te reo and have a combined total of about 390,000 Māori words.

History of Te Reo in Parliament

Several interesting discoveries were made after examining the result and making a graph (see figure below):

  • Up until the 1980s the proportion of te reo Māori speech in Parliament was barely anything – less than 0.1% for more than 130 years. However over the last 2-3 decades the growth trend in the percentage of te reo spoken in Parliament is very remarkable, even reaching as high as 2% in a year.
  • We found that Māori words make up about 0.2-0.4% of what people say in Parliament on average if they aren’t speaking in te reo Māori – most probably common words like names.
  • A cluster of te reo speeches around the 1940s.
  • Several MP speeches that include other polynesian languages are counted to contain about 50% – 70% “Māori” words – this is due to similarity between languages and alphabets.

Interpretation of the growth trend

The growth in te reo Māori used in Parliament appears to parallel the time period from when Te Kohanga Reo and Te Reo Māori revitalisation movement began, as well as from the time when the process of settling Tiriti grievances began.

That’s not surprising.

Closing thoughts

The sudden upswing in te reo in Parliament in the last 20 – 30 years is astounding. From practically 0 to 1-2% in a couple of decades, imagine what it could look like in years to come:

  • When the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament begins to match the size of the Māori population (~15%).
  • When the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament approaches 50%, and the nation is almost 100% Māori bilingual.

I don’t think it’s astounding. It part it parallels a change of attitude generally to the use of te reo in schools and elsewhere in New Zealand society. In Parliament it has been impacted by MMP, more Māori MPS, even a Māori party has been in Parliament for most of this century, from 2004 (when Tariana Turia won a by-election to retain her Te Tao Hauauru seat after she split from Labour) to 2017 when they dropped out of Parliament.

Will the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament ever reach the approximate size of the population that identifies as Māori? There is some justification for some use of te reo, but if MPs want to reach the widest possible audience then they have to use English.

It’s hard to see the percentage of Te Reo spoken in Parliament approaching anything like 50%, in the foreseeable future at least.

And it’s hard to see the nation becoming anywhere near 100% Māori/English bilingual. Everyone in New Zealand knows some te reo through numerous Māori place names, and most of us know some common terms and phrases.

Being able to understand conversational te reo (or te reo speeches in Parliament) is far less common.

It would be good to see te reo Māori not just survive but also to thrive, but is it necessary for it to become anywhere near as widely used and understood as English?

As well as being the common language of New Zealand, nearly everyone can use some English, it is also the most widely used language around the world, so it is likely to continue to dominate in general use and in Parliament here.

Te reo Māori in Parliament is good for some purposes, but mostly symbolic.Those who want to communicate with the most people will use English most of the time, as happens now.

45 Comments

  1. sorethumb

     /  March 4, 2018

    There is no obvious need for more te reo other than bolster the position of Maori and that is pure identity politics.

    • Gezza

       /  March 4, 2018

      Well, yes. But so what? Why shouldn’t the position of Maori be bolstered?
      Are you Maori, btw?

      • sorethumb

         /  March 4, 2018

        Because identity politics is about the group not the individual. Western civilisation is based on the assumption that the individual is primary.
        https://ru-clip.com/video/ziurppCPfEg/the-fundamental-assumptions-of-western-civilization-are-valid.html

        • PartisanZ

           /  March 4, 2018

          Yeah but no place, least of all New Zealand, is ONLY (so-called) Western civilization, is it?

          • PartisanZ

             /  March 4, 2018

            And rugged individualism is surely a form of identity politics anyhow …?

            You identify with the ideology of rugged individualism and all the other rugged individuals …

            The women may not share your view … They understand the need for ‘society’ more I think … I believe its a ‘communal’ requirement for raising children?

            Sorry to use a word based on ‘community’ in your presence …

        • Gezza

           /  March 4, 2018

          So, you’re identifying yourself as non-Maori?

  2. robertguyton

     /  March 4, 2018

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/101875501/es-councillor-wants-colleagues-to-speak-te-reo

    An Environment Southland councillor with “inadequate” Māori language skills wants his colleagues to start speaking a bit of te reo around the meeting table.

    Maurice Rodway made the suggestion at an Environment Southland meeting this week.

    The regional council meeting agendas have Māori translations beside some of the headings, but Rodway reckons they could go further.

    “We do it a little bit, but I think there’s an opportunity to do it a lot more.”

    Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell began the Wednesday meeting by saying haere mai, but no other words of Maori were detected from councillors during the meeting.

    Rodway later said the issue had earlier been raised at a meeting between Iwi and southern councils.

    “Some of the other councils are doing a lot more than what we are doing so it is a matter of us catching up to them.”

    Rodway confessed his Māori language skills were limited.

    “I don’t know too much, I know welcome and farewell and morena for morning.

    “I am pretty inadequate really.”

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    He was not suggesting all the councillors have lessons in Māori, he said.

    “But some might like to do that.”

    He had thought about doing so in the past, but had never acted on it.

    However, if Māori words and phrases were introduced to meetings it would educate councillors such as himself, he said.

    “It will give us a bit more confidence.”

    Most New Zealanders used Māori words in everyday conversation, such as whanau, and schools and government departments and Parliament were using the Māori language more as time progressed.

    The Māori language was an official language in New Zealand and leaders in the community had a responsibility to use the words, and be a role model for others, Rodway said.

    Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips, speaking at the Wednesday meeting, said staff were conscious of the issue and they were also looking to bring more te reo into their work.

    Staff would also have views around how to bring it more into the agendas, he said.

    Phillips suggested Environment Southland councillors have a workshop with iwi to discuss the issue.

    Last year the principal of an Invercargill Māori language total immersion school said te reo was in danger of dying out.

    Te Wharekura o Arowhenua principal Gary Davis said the Māori language was in “dire straits” and he believed Māori-speaking schools were the best way to keep the language going.

    With the older generation of native speakers beginning to dwindle in numbers, there was not a large base of fluent speakers in the country, he said.

    The 2013 census says 50,000 people of Māori ethnicity in New Zealand who are aged over 15 can speak Māori “very well” or “well”, according to Statistics NZ.

    But Davis said Māori estimates were that 15,000 to 20,000 could speak the language fluently but many were older and numbers were dwindling.

    – The Southland Times

    • sorethumb

       /  March 4, 2018

      So the language is in dire straights therefore.. ….

    • sorethumb

       /  March 4, 2018

      “I am pretty inadequate really.”
      ………
      He’s pretty pathetic alright.

      • robertguyton

         /  March 4, 2018

        Maurice is my colleague and a very intelligent man, so naturally I’ll support him when he’s being criticised in public. Especially by someone as clueless as [deleted – use proper pseudonyms – PG] 🙂 Maurice is correct in wanting to increase the use of Maori in the council chamber. We deal with Maori organizations regularly around official issues that are particular to them and come expressed in te reo Maori; for example, Te Mana o te Wai, which is a guiding principle of Central Government policy around water, and one that was adopted by the previous Government, that is, sorethumb, before the (dreaded-by-you) Greens got their sticky hands on the levers of power. Some of our councillors have negative views about learning te reo Maori; mostly they are dyed-in-the-wool farmers who can’t yet pronounce the simplest kupu, but others have Maori ancestry or partners and are enthusiastic about Maurice’s proposal. I personally, have some skill with speaking and understanding te reo Maori, so find your comments laughable. It’s enormously useful to be able to understand what visiting groups of Maori are saying when they use te reo in their introductions or as part of their presentations and I often wonder how my non-comprehending fellow councillors are going to make good decisions, as we are required to do, when their understanding of issues important to Maori is … somewhat incomplete.

        • sorethumb

           /  March 4, 2018

          You make an assumption that Maori see the world differently and to accommodate that difference we must learn their original language? In fact you are trying to accentuate difference.
          Scientists have tested Maori traditional knowledge based on mutton birding. They found that the records and techniques could be improved upon with statistical analysis. That’s why I vote for freshwater ecologists for ECAN (Than is Vietnamese – go Than!).

          • robertguyton

             /  March 4, 2018

            “Scientists have tested Maori traditional knowledge based on mutton birding. They found that the records and techniques could be improved upon with statistical analysis.”
            What do you mean by that, sorethumb? Records could be improved upon? You mean, computers are quicker and more efficient than older methods of recording? Good heavens!!! Who’d have thought!!!?
            And techniques too??? Storing titi in plastic buckets is more efficient than wrapping them in poha titi? I’m thunderstruck!! Those clever scientists!! And you, sorethumb – well said! Crikey!

        • Richard

           /  March 4, 2018

          Why bother
          English is our primary language that everyone can understand.

  3. San Zani e Paolo

     /  March 4, 2018

    It may or not be relevant, but over here there are occasional moves to support by legal means the use of the native language Quechua among, for example, schoolteachers, outreach medical staff, and the police. Things move a bit and then stop but the trend is onward. There are regular daily news programmes in Quechua on national TV and radio.

    In Bolivia you can find trilingual notices in state and municipal offices. The three languages are Castellano (“Spanish”), Quechua, and Aymara. Both of the latter are still widely spoken and the culture continues to develop in parallel with modernisation in society at large.

    Then there is of course the officialised use of Welsh in the UK, which as I recall was almost risibly nil in the sixties and is now accepted. Although it does take twice as long to read road signage!

    Being your country and not mine, I thought these obs from far away might be helpful.

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 4, 2018

      San Zani e Paoo – What do you think of Bolivia’s Constitution? I believe its one of the few functioning ‘consociational’ Constitutions on Earth?

      Is it working as a way of government?

      • PartisanZ

         /  March 4, 2018

        Apologies for spelling, should read San Zani e Paolo …

      • San Zani e Paolo

         /  March 5, 2018

        @PartisanZ:

        To my remote view, it’s working, if you follow the economy and some of the major political news items. Growth has been reasonable, industrialisation of lithium (etc) is still on the way, inroads have been made into the poverty and literacy indices, and some major challenges to the Constitution (Carretera Tipnis for example) are being worked through slowly, deliberately, and largely peacefully.

        There you have a strong government with strong popular roots and a leader with brains and a Been There Done That understanding of what it’s like at the bottom of the heap. Side note, succession is always the big problem in cases like this.

        Where I live next door there is a meme, from the days of ex-President Fujimori, that right is right and left is wrong. Any foreign lefty government is monitored for weakness and the cry “Look! Chavistas! Making A Mess! Don’t Want That Here!” goes up. Well, we hear little about Bolivia in that respect, so I guess they must be doing nearly everything right – or at least nothing that the anti-Hugo Chavez dream team can pick on as wrong.

        Bolivia has a majority indigenous population proud of its history and tradition and, for the first time, in command of its destiny. What’s not to like?

        Thanks for the interest!
        SZ+P

  4. Corky

     /  March 4, 2018

    Honestly, it’s not needed in parliament, except for ceremonial, maiden or valedictory speeches.

    • PartisanZ

       /  March 4, 2018

      What if some of your fellow ‘rugged individuals’ simply WANT to use it?

      • Corky

         /  March 4, 2018

        I think they have more intelligence. They understand if they want to be understood clearly, without translators and time wasting…English is where it’s at.

        Grandstanding, speaking real Maori, or Pigeon Maori ( we get a good laugh), seems to be the proclivity of you Lefties.

        • Gezza

           /  March 4, 2018

          How fluent are you in Maori, Corks?

        • PartisanZ

           /  March 4, 2018

          Bill English … apparently you thought wrong Corky … ?

          • Corky

             /  March 4, 2018

            You got me..anyone else?

          • Gezza

             /  March 4, 2018

            Judging from the the downtick, yeah I think I did too?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  March 4, 2018

          Pigeon Maori ? Coo, what’s that ?

          I have heard of PIDGIN English, but pigeon Maori ? As spoken by the kereru, I suppose.

        • Corky

           /  March 4, 2018

          Warning.. Grammar Prat on deck.

      • Gezza

         /  March 4, 2018

        Was quite surprised to hear Sir Don McKinnon say on Q&A this morning that he’s always argued Maori language should be compulsory at Primary School & a choice at Secondary, but could never persuade his other National colleagues.

  5. sorethumb

     /  March 4, 2018

    The point is that no one has come up with a good reason as to why we should speak Maori apart from blather such as “its an official language “. No doubt a lot of people (broadcasters) are feeling irrelevant with much public money and tiny audiences (Outspoken RNZ). The same woofters pushing te reo are the same people who stifled Maori concerns over immigration.
    http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc0402/article_316.shtml

  6. Kitty Catkin

     /  March 4, 2018

    Sign language is AN official language, and even when there is almost certainly nobody in the room who will need it, the PC (like the Greens) have someone gesturing away to the non-existent deaf people present who need it.

    • robertguyton

       /  March 4, 2018

      How do you know?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 4, 2018

        A tiny % of people can use it, and even fewer only use it. The odds are some hundreds to one against there being someone in a gathering who can only communicate in sign language. Why not ask if anyone present needs it rather than have someone translating into it for a non-existent deaf person who can only understand sign language ? Otherwise it’s pointless.

        • robertguyton

           /  March 4, 2018

          Good practice for the signers though; gotta keep your hand in.
          In any case, there may be people in the room who are of good hearing but support the use of signing; perhaps their brother or sister is deaf, perhaps their father or mother fought to have signing at such events, you just don’t know, do you. What’s the sign for “curmudgeon”, any one know?

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 4, 2018

    About 11% of the Southland population identifies as Maori. About 2% may be fluent in Te Reo. From Robert’s comments it sounds as though that 2% are well over-represented in those making representations to Environment Southland. Obviously a consequence of the Treaty gravy train.

    • robertguyton

       /  March 4, 2018

      A truly witless supposition, Alan.

  8. The words Māori and Pākehā and their actual definitions need to be taught to Google. Maybe then, this will not be seen as a problem to some.

  1. Te reo Māori in Parliament — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition