The last 30 years has seen a big push to create a critical mass of new speakers of te reo Māori, but that’s not enough, says Dr Dean Mahuta, a te reo Māori language expert in AUT’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development – Te Ara Poutama. We need to extend this knowledge into our digital spaces.
Our parents and grandparents’ generation grew up in strong Māori communities that were predominately centred on marae, around the knowledge of one’s culture. Today this knowledge has extended to other areas. Māori language immersion schools for example, do well in ensuring our tamariki have a solid grasp of their indigenous culture and language.
But what happens after our young people leave the classroom, or move away from their tight-knit community of speakers of te reo Māori?
Similarly, what happens to our non-Māori speakers and learners of te reo Māori who only have the opportunity to practice the language within an education institution? What happens to them when they leave the four walls of formative schooling and university education?
This is where social media, and more broadly digital media, can be a driving force. Digital media, is becoming a platform that is used to create virtual communities – a virtual network of speakers - where the Māori language can be used.
Active and conscious social use of te reo Māori key to keeping language alive
We need to see more speakers and learners of te reo Māori using the language more actively and consciously on social media to maintain, develop, and strengthen the language in contemporary New Zealand.
On facebook, we see more and more people using te reo Māori between friends who are known speakers of te reo Māori. It is positive to see it start to become the digital platform where an indigenous language is starting to thrive.
We also see proponents of the language using bilingual posting on facebook. They subscribe to the idea that we should not just post in one language because we can speak the language – we should post in the language and translate it too because we want others to learn the language. Language learning should be inclusive, not exclusive.
Twitter has also become a digital space where other speakers of te reo Māori can converse and share similar ideas in the language through the use of hashtags like #tereomāori, #koreromāori, and #TeWikiOTeReoMāori.
However, Facebook and Twitter are just two examples of how a social media space is being used to create virtual te reo Māori communities. We need to start thinking about how we can expand the use of te reo Māori further into other digital communities.
YouTube is an untapped space for people to speak about their world, their worldview, in te reo Māori. Currently, this space is predominantly occupied by mainstream television news organisations like Māori Television and TVNZ. There are extremely few individuals who are creating their own content in te reo Māori - this needs to change.
Creating a community of digital natives
The aim now is to create a new cohort of young te reo Māori speakers who feel just as comfortable conversing online in te reo as they do with their grandparents, in formal situations, at home, in their marae, or in their community.
Transforming digital media into a te reo Māori space is about communicating cultural knowledge of the language in a modern space and reinforcing and maintaining the critical mass that has been created in the past 30 years.
Proponents of language revitalisation need to think about how our indigenous languages can be used in everyday digital interactions so that it can benefit those learning the language.
Let’s talk about our contemporary world in te reo Māori. Let’s write game reviews and TV reviews in te reo Māori. Let’s have a cooking blog in te reo Māori. YouTube is the new TV so let’s jump on that bandwagon where an audience for this content already exists – let’s do it in te reo Māori.
Yes, it can be hard to maintain our social accounts with fresh, engaging, content. It requires, time effort, and commitment – but it’s worth it if it means keeping our language rich and alive.
It’s about building a strong sense of community and seeking new ways to support Māori and non-Māori students in their journey towards greater proficiency in te reo Māori. Social and digital media is a space that enables learners and speakers of te reo Māori to connect with one another.
Dr Dean Mahuta is a Senior Lecturer at Te Ara Poutama, AUT’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development, and Associate Director of Te Ipukarea, AUT’s National Māori Language Institute. He is currently researching the need for Indigenous peoples to begin occupying digital spaces, and taking ownership of their own digital identity.
Māori language in New Zealand
Results of the Te Kupenga survey carried out by Statistics NZ show that in 2013 an estimated 257,500 (55 per cent) Māori aged 15+ self-report an ability to speak te reo Māori, defined as more than a few words or phrases of the language. This compares to the results of the Te Puni Kokiri survey on the health of Māori language in 2001 which found 153,500 (42 percent) Māori adults reported some ability to speak te reo Māori.
Source: Te Kupenga survey, Statistics New Zealand