Using te reo is good, unless someone is offended

Last month during Māori language week there was widespread encouragement of increasing the use of te reo, but it seems that some want to limit it’s use to things they find acceptable.

Lizzie Marvelly (15 September): The language of the land is being spoken

We are in the middle of another Māori renaissance at the moment. Te reo classes are jam-packed, with long waiting lists for those hoping to jump aboard the language waka. The language of the land is being spoken more and more on the airwaves. Macron use is becoming increasingly common in major publications. It’s an exciting time for people who love Te Ao Māori. Kōrengarenga ana te whatumanawa i te manahau. My heart is overflowing with joy.

This week – this special, sacred week; a celebration of a language that has arisen from the ashes – has been full of reminders of the importance of our reo fight. I have loved seeing the many innovations unveiled to encourage use of the reo.

There’s no doubt that the recent history of te reo Māori has been a difficult one, but what has struck me most this week is the excitement of thousands of New Zealanders trying out new te reo words for the first time. In years to come, I like to imagine a future in which te reo Māori is spoken by most New Zealanders, having been taught at school. There is no downside. Bilingualism is great for your brain, te reo is fun to learn, and understanding Te Ao Māori strengthens our cultural partnership.

The future is Māori. Haumi ē! Hui ē! Tāiki ē!

But there appears to be a but.

In the time since, in the replies to that tweet, I’ve been accused of being “outraged”, told to lighten up, told that I was doing a disservice to te reo Māori, been called a “perpetually outraged radical feminist who hates men esp white men”…

old to “get off [my] fucking high horse”, told to get a life, called a boring snowflake etc. etc.

The response was fascinating. How do you go from someone pointing out that a phrase seems surprising and out of place, to instant hysteria? What happens in people’s minds to make them respond so vehemently?

The accusations around te reo were the most frustrating. Just because a te reo word is in a phrase doesn’t nullify the implications of the phrase as a whole. The phrase “less hui, more do-ey” plays into negative stereotypes about Māori. It has always had negative connotations.

So anything that someone thinks has negative connotations should not be said? Haven’t Māori used the term themselves?

And I’m aware that it was aimed at the Government, rather than at Māori, but it uses a racial stereotype to derive its meaning. So I was surprised to see it in that article, especially when Air NZ has done some good stuff to support te ao Māori.

I don’t think it uses a racial stereotype to derive it’s meaning. The meaning goes back a long way. It is simply a variation on the term ‘less talk, more action’ with a Māori flavour.

Hui are an important means of Māori consultation and discussion, but like any meetings, especially series of meetings, they can become dominated with talk at the expense of taking meaningful action.

Talking things over is usually a good thing, but interminably talking can be a form of procrastination.

Duff was being critical of Māori inaction.

But they look like white men so shouldn’t have joined this korero.

But I don’t think Deborah Coddington is Māori.

Leonie Hayden:

I’ve found it amusing in the past when I first heard it used (by Māori) but I don’t love it when it’s used by non-Māori, especially when you can tell it’s the only time they use the word ‘hui’.

Non-Māori teo users are discouraged, and could well be discouraged from using te reo if there is tolo much preciousness over how it is used.

Leonie Pihama:

Even the use by our own I find insulting. It is based on the hegemonic idea that talking, giving depth reflection and resolving ways of doing things is not “doing anything”.

I don’t think it is based on that at all. It doesn’t imply action without talking, without reflecting, without trying to resolve things through discussion. All it suggests is that sometimes there can be too much talk and not enough action. Māori are not immune from that, and they shouldn’t be immune from criticism if they don’t take enough action after talking things through.

I joined the twitter discussion –  If you want a living language, especially co-existing with another language, there will always be the chance that people will use it in ways we may not like. There’s a lot of English usage I’m not fussed on. But trying to dictate usage, especially based on race, seems crazy to me.

It also moved to a discussion on pronunciation.

More from Wairangi Jones:

Dialect variances don’t stack up as an argument. Regardless of dialect Te Reo has been mispronounced. The root cause of mispronounced Te Reo is racism because of colonisation, something the English language has never experienced.

The English language was and is not mispronounced in NZ. Te Reo is. Colonization is the cause.

English is pronounced differently eg Sth Africa and Oz like Te Reo dialects. I am talking about NZ and nowhere else. English pronunciation with the NZ twang is normal. Mispronunciation of Te Reo isn’t.

This is nonsense. there are quite a variety of English pronunciations in New Zealand. There is no normal ‘NZ twang’ – there are regional and racial variations her, and English pronunciation here has kept evolving for two centuries, as it has elsewhere. There has been a distinct Māori  on local pronunciation of English. That’s what happens with language.

If people like Marvelly and Jones try to insist that no te reo that may offend someone be used by non-Māori , and if they demand purity of pronunciation, they will deter people from using te reo and even from using Māori words.

If New Zealand had not been colonised, if there had been no foreign language exposure at all, if UK and US and Australian television had never been seen here, then Māori language spoken now would have evolved from how it was spoken 200 years ago. It is likely regional dialects would have become more pronounced. That’s what happens with languages.

Demanding purity now is likely to deter wider use.

Getting precious over the use of Māori words by anyone deemed not Māori  enough to use them is likely to deter wider use.

I don’t think Lizzie Marvelly, who seems to prefer her Māori  side and forgets like most she also has ‘coloniser’ ancestry, has not been condemned for using a non-pure non-Māori name. Lizzie as opposed to Irihāpeti is not exactly kātuarehe, but who cares?

I think use of te reo should be encouraged, and those who integrate Māori  words into English phrases should not be ostracised.

Māori will struggle to be a living language let alone widely used if it is stifled through preciousness and demanded perfection.