TE AO HOU
THE NEW WORLD
1 JULY, 1955
The preparation of a new edition of the Maori dictionary-costing £6,000 on printing alone and a considerable sum on editorial work, is one sign of the continued life of the Maori language. The dictionary is being asked for urgently by many people. It will be used in homes, schools and universities; by children and adults; by Maori and pakeha.
Maori will for long be a second language in New Zealand, if not for ever. Many still use it regularly at home; if their number is falling, it is not falling as fast as some suppose. At Maori gatherings, it is almost invariably used and he who wishes to make his mark in the Maori world must speak it. In the songs and action songs performed by Maori youth clubs it is of course essential. Classical texts—legends, waiata, proverbs—are being keenly studied by many.
At the same time, a perfect command of English is even more essential now than in the days when Sir Apirana Ngata, in a famous statement, put it far and away above all other school subjects to be learned by Maori people. For cultural satisfaction Maori is desirable, but English essential.
Some have suggested we cannot have both; that for English to be perfect, Maori must be forgotten. The conclusions of modern research do not agree. When the standard of English among Welsh schoolchildren was studied recently, it was found that bilingual pupils—speaking both Welsh and English—were at least as good in English as those without Welsh.
A similar study in New Zealand, to see how the English of Maori children is affected by their speaking Maori, could be most interesting; until such a study is carried out we cannot be really sure whether the Welsh results apply here or not.
There is no doubt however that great harm is done by speaking bad Maori. If Maori is spoken badly, it is likely that no more pride is taken in the English and the result is a double cultural handicap. The dictionary to appear shortly should play an important part in helping to maintain and improve the standard of Maori speech. The government attitude has been one of very tangible support for the venture.
Improvement cannot come, of course, from a dictionary alone. It needs a definite effort to watch speech, avoid incorrect words, look for the most expressive idiom and, most important, listen carefully to the speech of the true masters of the language, still to be found in many places. Oratory contests among the young, now becoming more common, have a great contribution to make.