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How the Maori Language Survived the Threat of Extinction

How the Maori Language Survived the Threat of Extinction
on June, 09 2014

The Maori language of New Zealand has a long and interesting history. It is a language that stood the test of time and threats of extinction. In fact, the survival of the language is a proof that for as long as people are willing to fight for their culture and tradition, it will definitely survive.

This native New Zealand language has seen changes and evolution over hundreds of years. There were in fact variations on the language when spoken in different regions. Since they were the dominant population in the country, early European traders had to learn speaking the language if they wished to make transactions with them. Even their children had to interact with Maori kids and eventually start learning the language. At first, the relationship between the foreigners and the natives had been very good. However, things eventually began to change.

The First Wave of Threats

Until the 1870’s, Maori flourished as a language in New Zealand. It has even become the language used for government transactions and even for religious missions. However, with the increasing number of foreign settlers, they have become more powerful and dominant. As a result, they started suppressing the use of Maori language in schools and promoted the use of English. Students who made use of Maori for communication were punished. They were conditioned to believe that English should be the lingua franca and if they wanted to succeed in life, they had to learn how to speak English.

Eventually, the elder Maoris just gave in and forced their kids to learn English. There were a few private schools teaching Maori grammar, but the number of enrollees was not that significant. This change did not just affect the language, but also the customs and traditions of the Maori people.

The Second World War

Despite the suppression of Maori, it lived on for many more years with some elders not giving up on speaking the language. However, during World War II, the threat of extinction intensified. More Maori children were encouraged to go to urban areas and big cities in New Zealand to study and work. In these places, English was the lingua franca. Therefore, the younger generation became even less interested in preserving the language. The thread continued up until only the elder generations were considered as real native speakers of the language.

A Fight for Change

With the attempts to eliminate Maori by translating everything to English, natives have started making big moves. They reasserted being Maori people and stressed out that their language was an essential part of who they were. More Maori leaders emerged and started calling on the help of the government. They emphasized the need to revive the language as it has already become critically endangered. In 1975, there were petitioners who braved the Parliament and called for a Maori language Day to promote the language. They also called for integrating the language in the basic educational system.

Eventually, the courage of Maori leaders bore fruit when bilingual schools started to open. In the 1980s, the natives with the help of the government started recovery programs. They targeted pre-schoolers who were yet to learn speaking. In 1987, the Maori language was officially declared as one of the official languages of New Zealand.

In 2006, there were already over 130,000 Maori natives who could fluently speak the language. There is also now an increasing number of Maori children who are able to speak the language. Thus, a language that was on the verge of extinction was brought back to life.

Day Translations Team

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