He rito whakakīnga whārua: Language value and development in communities


Even after 30 years of Māori language revitalisation movements, the Māori language continues to be in a perilous state. Despite these efforts there is no one method that can stem the decline as societal factors still impact adversely on language development. The most successful Māori language revitalisation movements are those located at the ‘flax-roots’ level.  However, as highlighted in the Pre-publication of the Waitangi Tribunal’s WAI 262 Report, there are a number of factors that have eroded Māori language revitalisation movements since the mid 1990s.

Despite the numerous efforts that have been made the Māori language continues to be in a perilous state and consequently not normalised in New Zealand society. There is a societal imbalance over the value placed on te reo Māori to the extent that people are not motivated to use te reo Māori as their primary language. There are several contributing factors that are understood to hinder language use and these factors continue to form the basis of research into why the language is dying.  However, very few research projects examine the success factors of language revitalisation and the positive impact learning and using te reo could have on society not just for Māori communities, but the nation as a whole.  This project will:

Examine the significant aspects of successful Māori language revitalisation movements, namely Te Ataarangi and Te Kōhanga Reo that encourages usage of language within whānau
Investigate how ‘value’ placed on language impacts on the continued demise of the language.
Explore the benefits of language value, use and development for New Zealand.
In order to complete this project the researchers will:

Collect qualitative information from active users of te reo to develop an understanding of the motivating factors that encourages use of the language in all contexts

  • Critically analyse the literature on factors that contribute to language revitalisation success, particularly around value and use.
  • Identify the contribution of Te Kōhanga Reo and Te Ataarangi to:
  • The Social development of Māori and non-Māori in New Zealand
  • International Māori language revitalisation efforts
  • Assess the psychological and spiritual impact of the State on Te Kōhanga Reo and Te Ataarangi employees and the family members of these two entities due to an apparent failure of the State to see value in their efforts.

The usage of the Māori language as a normal mode of communication is relatively non-existent as English continues to be the default language for all Māori people.  Research recognises that the key to successful language maintenance of the language is within whānau and intergenerational learning. Societal factors continue to mar the active use of the Māori language despite increased awareness in different mediums.  Continued lack of associated value placed on te reo Māori counter acts the efforts by those who struggle to regenerate te reo Māori in their communities.

The most successful ‘flax-root’ driven language movements, such as Te Kōhanga Reo and Te Ataarangi, continue to transform whānau from passive to active language users. Research primarily concentrates on issues that relate to failure rather than of success of the community and subsequently this continues to adversely affect perceptions on the value of the language to the nation.  Furthermore, research around the value (and the actual translation of this value in behaviour) to active and passive language speakers is thwarted by emotional, behavioural, social, political and economical complications that has researcher shy away from this area.

It is important to investigate what the key success factors are for these long standing revitalisation movements to highlight what can support and impinge the active use and value of the language within the whānau.  As these movements continue to develop and grow Māori language speakers in our communities they continue to face hegemonic ideals of the perceived lack of benefit or value that should be attributed to te reo.  However, this research aims to highlight the significance te reo Māori can also have in providing the nation with a shared common identity not as a counter hegemonic idea but as a means to unify the dynamic heterogenic society we live in.

Conference presentations
Higgins, R., Olsen-Reeder, V., Kire, A., Royal-Tangaere, A., Brown, K., Leoni, G., ... Rewi, P. (2012, June). Mā te kitea rawahia o ōna hua e ora ai te reo Māori i ngā kāinga me ngā tari kāwanatanga. Value: The ultimate enabler and disabler of the Māori language in the whānau and the public sector. Panel presentation at the International Indigenous Development Research Conference 2012. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, Auckland, New Zealand.
Higgins, R. (2012, March). Arohatia te reo – me pēhea hoki. Tuia Te Ako Conference. Pipitea Marae, Wellington, New Zealand.
Rewi, P. (2012, February). He iho reo - Māori language in Dunedin, Otago New Zealand: A case study. Public presentation. University of French Polynesia. Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Project Team: 

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