Maori Language

The Maori language or Te Reo Maori has the status of an official language in New Zealand. The word itself means “common” or “ordinary”. It is said that when the first settlers asked the inhabitants who they were, they replied “tangata maori” which means ordinary people.

Maori Language School Class, 1981Te Reo was the predominant language until the 19th century. With the coming of European settlers it became a minority language because of the English spoken by missionaries. They had to learn it if they wished to trade with the local people. In 1814 missionaries made their first attempts to write down the language. Up to the late 19th century it was not uncommon for missionaries, government officials and other European New Zealanders. Their children basically grew up with aborigine’s children, so they became the most fluent European speakers of it. Until World War II most native people spoke Te Reo as their first language.  In 1825 the first book (“A korao no New Zealand” by Thomas Kendall) was published and  in 1842 the first  newspaper, Ko te Karere o Nui Tireni, was available in this language.

Te Reo in the 20th

Te Reo MaoriFrom the 20th century number of speakers of Te Reo began to decline rapidly. It was restricted in schools so that youngsters could assimilate easily. Some of them were abused for speaking their language and generations of non-Maori-speaking people emerged, increasing numbers of New Zealanders speaking English because of its necessity. Despite of all of these the  language persisted. People recognized the dangers of the loss of it. Major Te Reo language recovery began in the 1980s.
Today, this language is more accepted than it used to be. Over 130 000 people  can speak and understand it in New Zealand. It is still a community language in several settlements. There are many words in New Zealand English which have been copied from Te Reo and there are hundreds of words in it which derive from English.

Maori Language Today

Many believe that the language currently being used by younger speakers often shows influences from English in terms of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary usage. Increasing numbers of New Zealanders raise their children bilingually, with New Zealand English as either their first or second language. There are many institutions, most set up since 1980s working to recover Te Reo. Integration of the language is flattering nowadays. There are number of good online dictionaries available. Everyone can easily use the online dictionaries and find the English meaning of words and vice versa. Te kohanga Reo, which serves to promote and support the use of Te Reo, was established in 1982.  Another important program to revive the language in New Zealand is the establishment of a national broadcaster, Maori Television, funded by New Zealand Government.