Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974

[Letter from John Brooke-White]

Dear Sir,

Section divider image

I've not been a student for forty years, but I still read "Salient". Odd, isn't it?

Hemi Potatau, in August 29 issue, writing about the Maori language, is well off the beam. Maori is indeed a vernacular language, but only to Maoris. It is spoken by a small proportion as a first language (less than 25% of Maori children speak it); I have no doubt it has cultural value, but only to Maoris, surely.

Hemi says the language "suffered a terrible setback" due to British colonisation. What nonsense! That colonisation transformed it from a purely spoken language into a written one, with dictionaries, translations and the capacity for teaching, and being taught, in Maori. Admittedly, later the speaking of Maori was banned from the school grounds, but this was part of then then education policy, and was not designed to destroy the language.

He goes on about pidgin English. This does not seem to have any relevance, surely no-one has described Maori as a pidgin language. At any rate his theory about the creation of pidgin English is plainly in error.

My experience in West Africa where pidgin is widely spoken, but not, repeat not, taught in schools, is that it amounts to a basic English adapted to the indigenous patterns of thought. It can be concise and even attractive. When an African says "Master he go come", he means "The boss is out and we expect him back soon". One expression I liked was "wait small" the local equivalent of "hang on a minute mate" In Africa, pidgin is a lingua franca used not only for communicating with whites but across dozens of vemcaulars.

On borrowing. English cannot be said to borrow, except in very minor ways (mufti, pariah, monsoon, algebra). It is constantly developing and new words are created from the original sources, particularly in the scientific and technical fields (ergonomics, cybernetics, cryogens) I don't say English will not hesitate to lift useful and descriptive words from other languages, but there these are the exceptions, and not part of the normal enrichment process.

Maori has no similar sources. It cannot reach back to its roots and come up with a phrase for "computer-assisted systems engineering". It can only, as Hemi Potatau admits, Maori-ise English words. Isn't this getting dangerously near pidgin?

The current preoccupation with the teaching of Maori is, I believe, emotionarlly based and cannot be rationalised. If there is a demand, by all means let it be satisfied. However, there is no justification for it to be included in the school curriculum. Let it be an "extra", like learning the violin or ballet-dancing.

John Brooke-White