Politicians and evolving New Zild

There’s been a bit of discussion about pronunciation of the English language in New Zealand.

Pronunciation of any language keeps evolving, and English varies enormously around the world, and in New Zealand regionally and over time.

Quite a bit of attention is paid to the pronunciation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who seems to use a lot of lazy language, and also Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges who seems to be more of a mangler. The two pronounce things quite differently to each other and to many others here.

What about the other leaders? James Shaw is different again, and Green co-leader Marama Davidson is a bit different again. Like them ACT leader David Seymour seems to escape criticism of his accent.

Winston Peters sounds different again, and so does Shane Jones for that matter.

Our accents all sound quite different to New Zealanders in video or audio clips from 50 years ago, and 70 years ago.

There’s southern variations, and rural North Island variations, and South Auckland variations, and other parts of Auckland variations depending on concentrations and origins of immigrants.

The only think fixed about language pronunciation is that it will always keep changing, and these days in New Zealand  the variations can be quite noticeable across generations.

Because we here politicians speaking more than most people outside our normal lives we notice their nuances and mangles and variations more than most.

There’s no correct way to pronounce anything. Few people actually speak ‘the Queen’s English’, which is quaint and dated and to me sounds more unnatural than Ardern or Bridges.

But it gives us something to talk about other than the weather.

Census 2018 – national highlights

Census 2018 data has been released. The process has been a problem, with a quality assessment finding the majority of key data was either very high, high, or moderate quality, but some data is poor or very poor

Key facts

New Zealand’s 34th Census of Population and Dwellings was held on 6 March 2018. We combined data from the census forms with administrative data to create the 2018 Census dataset, which meets Stats NZ’s quality criteria for population structure information.

The census night population count of New Zealand is a count of all people present in New Zealand on a given census night. The census usually resident population count of New Zealand is a count of all people who usually live in and were present in New Zealand on census night. It excludes overseas visitors and New Zealand residents who are temporarily overseas. The following population information is based on the census usually resident population.

Results of the 2018 Census showed:

  • The Māori ethnic group comprised 16.5 percent of the census usually resident population.
  • New Zealand was the most common birthplace, at 72.6 percent. This was followed by England (4.5 percent), the People’s Republic of China (2.9 percent), and India (2.5 percent).
  • The most common languages spoken were English (95.4 percent), te reo Māori (4.0 percent), and Samoan (2.2 percent).
  • More than 9 in 10 households (91.9 percent) in occupied private dwellings had access to a cell or mobile phone, a higher proportion than those with access to the internet at 86.1 percent.


The percentage of the population who identified themselves as belonging to the Māori ethnic group was 16.5 percent.

There was no change in the top five ethnicities between the 2013 and 2018 Censuses: New Zealand European (64.1 percent), Māori (16.5 percent), Chinese not further defined (nfd) (4.9 percent), Indian nfd (4.7 percent), and Samoan (3.9 percent).

The 2018 Census totals by topic – national highlights tables have national counts of ethnicities at the most detailed level of the ethnicity classification. However, 2018 Census population and dwelling counts has broad groupings of ethnicities (that is, European, Māori, Pacific, Asian, MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African), and Other ethnic groups) at various levels of geography.


Of the census usually resident population, 72.6 percent were born in New Zealand. This compares with 74.8 percent in the 2013 Census.

The next most common birthplace was England at 4.5 percent, down from 5.4 percent in 2013.

This was followed by the People’s Republic of China (2.9 percent or 132,906 people) and India (2.5 percent or 117,348 people), both up from 2.2 and 1.7 percent respectively (or 89,121 and 67,176 people) in the 2013 Census.

Languages spoken

Of the top five languages, both te reo Māori and Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) speakers increased slightly since the 2013 Census, from 3.7 to 4.0 percent, and from 1.3 to 2.0 percent respectively.

English was the most common language with which people could hold a conversation about everyday things, with 4,482,135 speakers (95.4 percent of the population).

The next most common languages were:

  • te reo Māori (185,955 people or 4.0 percent)
  • Samoan (101,937 people or 2.2 percent)
  • Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) (95,253 people or 2.0 percent)
  • Hindi (69,471 people or 1.5 percent).

New Zealand Sign Language was used by 22,986 people (or 0.5 percent). In 2013, this was 20,235 people (or 0.5 percent).

Education and training

One in four New Zealanders (24.5 percent) participated in full- or part-time study. Of these, 87.0 percent participated in full-time study.

Of the population, 18.2 percent of adults reported no qualification for their highest qualification, down from 20.9 percent in 2013.

The proportion of adults who had a bachelor’s degree or level 7 qualification for their highest qualification was 14.6 percent, while 5.9 percent had an overseas secondary school qualification.


The proportion of households in occupied private dwellings who owned or partly owned their homes, and made mortgage payments, was 27.8 percent. An additional 18.8 percent owned or partly owned their homes and did not make mortgage payments.

Of households whose dwelling was not owned or held in a family trust, 31.9 percent made rent payments, while a further 3.4 percent lived in a dwelling rent-free.

Of the households who paid rent, 83.5 percent rented from a private person, trust, or business, and 0.3 percent of households who paid rent rented from an iwi, hapū, or Māori land trust.

Heat pumps were the most common form of heating used in New Zealand homes (47.3 percent), followed by electric heaters (44.1 percent), and wood burners (32.3 percent).

Most households in occupied private dwellings had access to a cell or mobile phone (91.9 percent), and 86.1 percent had access to the internet.

2018 Census totals by topic – national highlights

Microsoft Excel Open XML Spreadsheet, 621 KB

Stats NZ: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/2018-census-totals-by-topic-national-highlights

Changing language about drug use

Language is important. It is important to be careful not to stifle expressiveness, and avoid being too PC about how things are described.

But it is also important to describe things accurately and with consideration what effect negative language can have, especially on people with mental health and addiction problems.

I have mixed feelings about this:

That was retweeted by the NZ Drug Foundation.

Some of those substitutions seem sensible, but some appear to me to be fudging far too much.

Pretty much all of us are drug users, be it prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, or potentially harmful illicit drugs. Actually prescription drugs, alcohol and cannabis can be harmful as well as beneficial or benign.

Some thought should be given to what sort of language we use, but we shouldn’t have to sanitise language so that it becomes ridiculously inoffensive – ‘politically correct’ language itself can be offensive.

Absolutely overused

A post by Adam Smith on The degradation of language ponders the frequent use of the word absolutely by Jacinda Ardern.

The Oxford English Dictionary states:-


  • 1With no qualification, restriction, or limitation; totally.

    ‘she trusted him absolutely’
    as submodifier ‘you’re absolutely right’
  1. 1.1 Used to emphasize a strong or exaggerated statement.
    ‘he absolutely adores that car’
    as submodifier ‘Dad was absolutely furious’

    1.2 with negative None whatsoever.

    ‘she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about’
     1.3 informal as exclamation Used to express and emphasize one’s assent or agreement.
    ‘‘Did they give you a free hand when you joined the band?’ ‘Absolutely!’’

Ardern’s use of the word seems to be more in line with 1.2 above.

Yet many seem to assume that she agrees with what is being said  and will take positive actions. Is this her spinning, or is it a sad commentary on the understanding of English in NZ, or a combination? Adam suspects the latter.

More to the point perhaps is the ignorance in this matter displayed by so-called journalists.

This aids her manifest obfuscations.

I have noticed the frequent use of ‘absolutely’ by Ardern, which seems odd given she graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Studies (BCS) in politics and public relations.

Absolutely has been so overused by many that rather than add emphasis it tends to be little more than embellished fluff.

When Ardern first stepped up as Labour leader she impressed with her clear, frank language, unusual for a politician.

But her language has gradually degraded, with ‘manifest obfuscations’ becoming common. I don’t know if this is through the sort of media training that wrecked the political career of David Shearer, tying him up in a confused garble, and contributed to Andrew Little’s fall.

Ardern now often sounds like she is deliberately avoiding being up front and transparent, something she had promised to be.

She is just one politician who has degraded language – and degraded confidence in politicians to be open and honest.

Does she overuse ‘absolutely’? I was tempted but will avoid the obvious answer, and instead say with Kiwi understatement – yeah, she does a bit.


Is emphasis on Maori culture and language unwarranted?

Maori culture and language is understandably important for some Maori, and for some non-Maori. But what about the rest of us?

This question has been raised on Reddit by Cobaltgrass: All this emphasis on Maori culture and language is unwarranted. They should be treated the same as everyone else, and otherwise it is racist. Just politicians too pussy to potentially risk votes from Maori.

We can still respect their language and culture without this bombardment of attention to Maori, By doing this, perhaps the government is going over the limit to what is necessary to the detriment to others. I am sure you would value the different cultures of other groups, even with all of them getting the same treatment. We can respect everyone by giving everyone equal amounts of care, help, and attention. I do not believe that this is happening now.

All this emphasis in the recent political cycle on how each party can help Maori and Pacific people in specific, with Pakeha, Asians and other minorities being lumped together as the general population just made me ask this question.


You could make all sorts if arguments around how the Maori people were here first, and how they have been treated pretty badly in the past but I won’t. Instead I’ll offer a different perspective.

What harm does it do to you? Is it really any skin off your back that they pronounce Maori place names correctly on the TV? Does it really matter that the census is available in Maori? Do the multilingual signs hurt anybody? Is having Maori TV really a problem?

If by being more inclusive and accepting of Maori language and culture we can help to improve the outcomes of a significant minority at negligible cost to everybody else then I’m all for it.

Besides, it’s pretty cool to have something unique which isn’t just copied from the UK or the USA.

It is part of the Aotearoa New Zealand identity that makes us unique.


Believe me, those are the least of my concerns. I’ll name the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  1. Easier entry to university if Maori or Pacific
  2. Huge focus on specifically NCEA Maori pass rates in school, leading to less attention to things like the lack of STEM, or the average and top students. Seriously, this is one of the most talked about goal in the UOW Masters degree in teaching (friend recently did it)
  3. Using a portion of the lotto profits to give grants to people who will specifically help Maori or Pacifica.

Salt Pile:

  1. This doesn’t affect you in any way. The reason the easier access was granted was because it was harder for those students to get in because of their circumstances (which are from history), leading to an unfair disadvantage. If you abolished that rule, there’d be less diversity but you personally would not find it any easier to get into uni than you do now.
  2. If a group is disadvantaged for historical reasons and has a lower education pass rate, then ignoring that just perpetuates a cycle of underprivilege. Any teacher worth their salt would want to help to break that cycle. Sure it leads to less attention to the average and top students, but they need it less. That’s like complaining because your little brother broke his arm so your mother is giving him attention by taking him to the doctor.
    Allowing the vulnerable to get a hand up is a central part of being a decent human being. Again, it doesn’t really affect you personally any more than any other resource allocation choice affects you – don’t be so sure that people would give all their money and time to you if it weren’t for Maori. On the contrary, you should be happy that teachers focus on improving the education of a less educated group because it will make the society you live in stronger in future.
  3. This one was just wrong. Gambling disproportionately affects the poor, urban, and Maori and Pasifika communities. If you look at the stats overall the opposite is happening – money is being sucked out of poor predominantly brown communities and transferred to sports clubs in rich places like Remuera.

I think some Maori culture is overdone – but in the past it was grossly underdone and suppressed.

Perhaps we are just need to find the right balance (for most people).

To do this we need to be prepared to talk about it, and hear arguments from all sides.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori – 100 Māori words

From NZ History: 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know

The marae

  • Hui meeting, conference, gathering
  • Marae the area for formal discourse in front of a meeting house; or the whole marae complex, including meeting house, dining hall, forecourt, etc.
  • Haere mai! Welcome! Enter!
  • Nau mai! Welcome!
  • Tangihanga funeral ceremony in which a body is mourned on a marae
  • Tangi short (verbal version) for the above; or to cry, to mourn
  • Karanga the ceremony of calling to the guests to welcome them onto the marae
  • Manuhiri guests, visitors
  • Tangata whenua original people belonging to a place, local people, hosts
  • Whaikōrero the art and practice of speech making
  • Kaikōrero or kaiwhai kōrero speaker (there are many other terms)
  • Haka chant with dance for the purpose of challenge (see other references to haka on this site)
  • Waiata song or chant which follows a speech
  • Koha gift, present (usually money, can be food or precious items, given by guest to hosts)
  • Whare nui meeting house; sometimes run together as one word – wharenui
  • Whare whakairo carved meeting house
  • Whare kai dining hall
  • Whare paku lavatory, toilet
  • Whare horoi ablution block, bathroom


  • Aroha compassion, tenderness, sustaining love
  • Ihi power, authority, essential force
  • Mana authority, power; secondary meaning: reputation, influence
  • Manaakitanga respect for hosts or kindness to guests, to entertain, to look after
  • Mauri hidden essential life force or a symbol of this
  • Noa safe from tapu (see below), non-sacred, not tabooed
  • Raupatu confiscate, take by force
  • Rohe boundary, a territory (either geographical or spiritual) of an iwi or hapū
  • Taihoa to delay, to wait, to hold off to allow maturation of plans, etc.
  • Tapu sacred, not to be touched, to be avoided because sacred, taboo
  • Tiaki to care for, look after, guard (kaitiaki: guardian, trustee)
  • Taonga treasured possession or cultural item, anything precious
  • Tino rangatiratanga the highest possible independent chiefly authority, paramount authority, sometimes used for sovereignty
  • Tūrangawaewae a place to stand, a place to belong to, a seat or location of identity
  • Wehi to be held in awe
  • Whakapapa genealogy, to recite genealogy, to establish kin connections
  • Whenua land, homeland, country (also afterbirth, placenta)

People and their groups

  • Ariki male or female of high inherited rank from senior line of descent
  • Hapū clan, tribe, independent section of a people (modern usage – sub-tribe); pregnant
  • Iwi people, nation (modern usage – tribe); bones
  • Kaumātua elder or elders, senior people in a kin group
  • Ngāi Tātou a term for everyone present – ‘we all’
  • Pākehā this word is not an insult; its derivation is obscure; it is the Māori word for people living in New Zealand of British/European origin; originally it would not have included, for example, Dalmatians, Italians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese
  • Rangatira person of chiefly rank, boss, owner
  • Tama son, young man, youth
  • Tamāhine daughter
  • Tamaiti one child
  • Tamariki children
  • Tāne man/men, husband(s)
  • Teina/taina junior relative, younger brother of a brother, younger sister of a sister
  • Tipuna/tupuna ancestor
  • Tuahine sister of a man
  • Tuakana senior relative, older brother of a brother, older sister of a sister
  • Tungāne brother of a sister
  • Wahine woman, wife (wāhine: women, wives)
  • Waka canoe, canoe group (all the iwi and hapū descended from the crew of a founding waka)
  • Whāngai fostered or adopted child, young person
  • Whānau extended or non-nuclear family; to be born
  • Whanaunga kin, relatives

Components of place names

Terms for geographical features, such as hills, rivers, cliffs, streams, mountains, the coast; and adjectives describing them, such as small, big, little and long, are found in many place names. Here is a list so you can recognise them:

  • Au current
  • Awa river
  • Iti small, little
  • Kai in a place name, this signifies a place where a particular food source was plentiful, e.g., Kaikōura, the place where crayfish (kōura) abounded and were eaten
  • Manga stream
  • Mānia plain
  • Maunga mountain
  • Moana sea, or large inland ‘sea’, e.g., Taupō
  • Motu island
  • Nui large, big
  • Ō or o means ‘of’ (so does a, ā); many names begin with Ō, meaning the place of so-and-so, e.g., Ōkahukura, Ōkiwi, Ōhau
  • One sand, earth
  • Pae ridge, range
  • Papa flat
  • Poto short
  • Puke hill
  • Roa long
  • Roto lake; inside
  • Tai coast, tide
  • Wai water
  • Whanga harbour, bay


Body parts

See also: 365 useful Māori words and phrases

A note on pronunciation

The following English equivalents are a rough guide to pronouncing vowels in Māori:

      • a as in far
      • e as in desk and the first ‘e’ in where; it should be short and sharp
      • i as in fee, me, see
      • o as in awe (not ‘oh!’)
      • u as in sue, boot

There are fewer consonants, and only a few are different from English:

      • r should not be rolled. It is pronounced quite close to the sound of ‘l’ in English, with the tongue near the front of the mouth.
      • t is pronounced more like ‘d’ than ‘t’, with the tip of the tongue slightly further back from the teeth
      • wh counts as a consonant; the standard modern pronunciation is close to the ‘f’ sound. In some districts it is more like an ‘h’; in others more like a ‘w’ without the ‘h’; in others again more like the old aspirated English pronunciation of ‘wh’ (‘huence’ for whence)
      • ng counts as a consonant and is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘singer’. It is not pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘finger’, i.e., Whāngārei is pronounced Far-n(g)ah-ray (not Fong-gah-ray); Tauranga is pronounced Tow- (to rhyme with sew) rah-n(g)ah (not Tow-rang-gah).

The macron – a little line above some vowels – indicates vowel length. Some words spelled the same have different meanings according to their vowel length. For example, anā means ‘here is’ or ‘behold’: Anā te tangata! (Here is the man!) Ana, with no macron, means a cave. Some writers of modern Māori double the vowel instead of using macrons when indicating a long vowel; the first example would be Anaa te tangata!

Has you done awfill English?

BBC: Why all English speakers worry about slipping up

The English language is confusing, inconsistent and easy to muddle. But some pour too much scorn on those who break the rules, writes James Harbeck.

Since Jonathan Swift’s 1712 Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, two centuries of self-appointed correctors and improvers of English usage – such as Robert Lowth, HW Fowler, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis, Simon Heffer, Lynne Truss, and Neville Gwynne – have decried the decadent state of our language and instructed people on how to use it better.

But what have they accomplished?

They have helped enforce agreement that there should be a standard version of the language. They have not, however, managed to set the exact details of that standard.

And the stream of the language has flowed on despite the damning practices prescribed by grammar doctors in the 1700s and 1800s that often look old-fashioned or bizarre now…

The language cannot be fixed in place, and its constant evolution does not always follow the tastes of its self-appointed guardians. Some of their proposed improvements have had inglorious careers: a rule – don’t split infinitives, don’t end sentences with prepositions, don’t start sentences with conjunctions – is decided in defiance of established usage. It is promulgated in books, taught in schools, and often used as an indicator of a writer’s level of education, yet it continues to be broken – productively by some (including many of the best writers), sloppily by others, guiltily by many.

One important effect the English-improvers have had, however, is on how people feel and talk about English usage. They have taught generations of English speakers that ‘bad English’ is a failure of intellectual and moral fibre.

Jonathan Swift, in 1712, talked of “Corruptions,” “Licentiousness,” and “barren” usages; Robert Lowth, in 1799, applied terms such as “perverted” and “barbarous”; Richard Grant White, in 1872, used phrases such as “utterly abominable”, “foolish and intolerable”, and said they showed “utter want of education and a low grade of intelligence” (and these against words such as donate, jeopardise, and preventative).

HW Fowler in 1908 spoke of “barbaric” usages, and the “special ugliness” that comes from a word with a “mongrel origin”, and counselled readers that “The effect of using quotation marks with slang is merely to convert a mental into a moral weakness.” George Orwell in 1946 inveighed against “slovenliness” and “sheer incompetence.”

In more recent years, writers guilty of some well-established word choices and writing habits have been called “slovenly” by Kingsley Amis; “abominable,” and “semi-literates” by Simon Heffer; “illiterate” by Neville Gwynne; and “moral weaklings” by Lynne Truss.

What these umpires of the English language have enabled and abetted is scorn based purely on details of the language itself rather than on extrinsic social differences.

There is a classism in it, but their ideal is not a nobleman (they often criticise errors in the speech of the high and mighty) but a person of careful, vigorous thought, moral propriety, manly directness, and the right sort of education, as evinced unfailingly by avoidance of specified vulgarisms and barbarisms.

They despise stupidity and low character, but they enfranchise their pupils to identify these not by the content of what is said but by a few simplistic rules of form: a belt of scorn grenades.

The English language can be confusing. Thanks to its history, its spelling is capriciously inconsistent; thanks to the vast body of literature that has grown over the centuries of its evolution, its variations of form are manifest.

To be an English speaker is unavoidably to have some degree of what William Labov called ‘linguistic insecurity’. People whose English is farther from the promoted ideal are more insecure, but you will not find an English speaker who does not at least occasionally fret about whether he or she is committing an error.

It’s not so surprising that people over the centuries have wanted to tidy it all up. But attempts at improvement have not been unequivocally successful, to say the least, and the tone in which they have been presented has done further injury.

It’s bad enough that we have to worry about being clear and consistent; thanks to the weaponisation of English grammar and vocabulary, we also have to worry about being seen as degenerate barbarian imbeciles.

The English language is confusing, infuriating and a marvellous  way to communicate expressively.

The evolution of English is fascinating, as are the efforts of some to stop it’s evolution in it’s tracks. What no one has been able to do is stop the expansion and diversification of English in it’s written tracks.

Like English ethnicity the language is a hodge podge of immigrant languages used in a wide variety of ways.

Writing clearly is important, but it depends on who your audience is as to what is clear and what is acceptable.

“A shared NZ language would be uniting”

We have had recent discussions about whether the Maori language should be taught more to children so that it becomes more widely used. alongside our other official spoken language, English.

Traveller posted this:

People often refer to what can be dropped out of the syllabus to accommodate the addition of Maori. I am not talking anything other than learning the language to fluency. I’m not talking the continuance at college, high school other than there be a general reinforcement of cultural Tikanga/Maoritanga and that it is ideally seamlessly incorporated.

From personal experience, I know that preschoolers are like the proverbial sponge and learn second languages quite naturally. How? Two of my children went to Kohanga Reo for preschool. One of them went on to study other languages in mainstream schooling very easily, something I attribute to the bilingual nature of his preschool exposure.

Of course, the impetus to converse would vary from kid to kid, depending on their sociability and parental, academic and social reinforcement. It’s accepted that learning a second language (or third, fourth and fifth) is exceptionally simple and quite natural to preschoolers.

Ask anyone who has raised kids in expat compounds, in say, Saudi. It is common for children to happily converse in Arabic, French, German, English and to switch to the mother tongue of whoever they encounter with ease.

There appears to be a ‘window’ of learning language that ‘opens’ at about the age of ten months. Infants can hear much earlier, of course, and there is some evidence that they can even hear in the womb. It is clear that they will begin to imitate the ‘noises’ they hear, and when there is a reaction from their caregivers, they begin to associate meanings with the sounds.

Over the next two years, infants acquire language at an astonishing rate. By the age of three, they have acquired basic syntax (sentence structure), basic grammar (the ‘rules’ of the language), and a large vocabulary of basic words necessary to their physical and emotional survival. Their motivation to talk with their caregivers is high: asking for something usually results in being given the thing they need.

Similarly, when the infant begins to play outside, with other children, then the motivation to talk to these children is high, and the infant will try to learn the language of play. Later on, at school, the language of the school will be important, too.”

There is considerable debate among linguists as to when the ‘language learning window’ closes, if it closes at all.

However, there does seem to be an ‘optimal’ age for language learning, when the child’s mind is still open and flexible, and not cluttered with all sorts of other learning, not to mention the society’s views on which languages are ‘prestige’ languages, and which ones are regarded by the society as of little or no importance. The latter affects motivation: children will be admired for speaking a ‘prestige’ language, and teased and bullied for speaking a ‘non-prestige’ language.

When the mind is being taught many many other things than language, there is less ‘processing space’ left for language learning. At the moment, the ‘optimal’ time for learning a second language appears to be ‘at the same time as the first language’, i.e. in the home beginning at birth to three years (providing the parents speak these two languages as their mother tongue).

The next best time for learning a second, third, and even a fourth language, appears to be between the ages of two to seven years.

A third period for learning a second language is from about ten to thirteen years of age, this is in cases when the second language is not the language of either the parents or the environment.

This is the reason behind the push to introduce ‘foreign’ language learning into the curriculum of elementary schools, in the grade when the child is about ten-eleven years old.

The ideal would be to introduce conversation to all children at pre-school level relatively intensely. As our society evolved to being more naturally bilingual the home teaching would become a driving factor.

I truly believe that a shared NZ language would be uniting rather than polarising.


I agree that it would generally be uniting if children learned to speak Maori from a young age. There would be some grumbles but I think they would dissipate over time.

Children in mainstream now get taught a little Maori at school but nothing to the extent of being able to speak the language.

I’ve just spoken with a 12 year old who says they get taught some bits of the Maori language, and sing Maori songs, and but nothing conversational.


Whale Oil language gaff

Whale Oil frequently blasts other media when they make mistakes, especially NZ Herald. Missy pointed out:

I was having a brief look over at Whale Oil today, and I noticed a post Cam Slater has done on NZ Children learning languages, specifically Chinese, what struck me is that before posting a regurgitation of the article he put the following line in.

“Really? They don’t choose to learn Swiss or Brazilian?”

Now, since I thought it was common knowledge that Brazilian and Swiss are nationalities not languages – Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, and French, German, Italian and Romansh is spoken in Switzerland – I would have expected someone who seems to be picky about journalists in the MSM getting their facts straight would not have made such a stupid error.


To be fair Cameron Slater may have been trying to be cute with his opening comment – surely he wouldn’t pick two countries like Brazil and Switzerland in total ignorance, and he makes a dig at ‘Chinese’ versus ‘Mandarin’ – but Missy is right, that’s the sort of apparent ignorance he would blast the Herald for.

It looks dumb, especially on a post about language.

Also, to be fair to language correctness, Standard Mandarin is also referred to as Standard Chinese (as well as Putonghua and Guoyu) so ‘Chinese’ is as correct as ‘Mandarin’.

And if you want to be nit-picky about ‘Chinese’ versus ‘Mandarin’ then perhaps it should be pointed out that “there are as many as 292 living languages in China.”

The languages most commonly spoken belong to the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which contains Mandarin (spoken natively by 70% of the population), and other Chinese languages: 

While 70% speaking Mandarin is a significant majority 30% of the Chinese population is over 400 million people.

The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, a variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect.

Mandarin is also known as Standard Chinese (so ‘Chinese is a correct-ish variant) and also as Putonghua and Guoyu