Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974
[Letter from Hemi Potatau]
I was very pleased to read Mr Brooke-White's letter of October 17 criticising my letter of August 29. I had mentioned to you that I was hoping there would be a critical reply to mine forthcoming so that one would be able to balance my statement and that of the critic for the right or otherwise of the Maori language and culture to exist in this modern world. Mr Brooke-White says that he has not been a student for 40 years. Does this mean that he has made a special study of my language, of linguistics and sociolinguistics during his youthful and university days? Well, I do not pretend to be an authority on these subjects except Maori as I have only taken them this year. But I became so fascinated with them, especially sociolinguistics, that I gave my whole heart and mind to the subject of Maori language and culture. Sociolinguistics in our seminar classes has been such a living subject to me that I have tried to bring my own Maori language—my impudence, n'est-ce pas?—alongside such world languages as Arabic, French, English.
In the third paragraph of your letter you say that my statement "suffers a terrible setback due to colonisation" was nonsense. I want to point out here, e hoa John, that I was referring to an article by Dr Bruce Biggs in Eric Schwimmer's symposium "The Maori People of the 1960's" page 65 ff with the heading 'Maori language, Past and Present'. I remember being present at a Maori Teachers' language conference held in Rotorua just before WW II. The late very Reverent J.G. Laugh ton CMG was Chairman at the course, A senior inspector of Maori schools was accused by some of those present of having deliberately stopped the Maori children from speaking Maori. It was part of the Government policy of that day with regard to Maori education. Of course, when I went to the Maori school at Nuhaka, as soon as we spoke Maori in the school grounds, (in about 1910) we would be strapped or caned because the headmaster and some of the pakeha teachers thought that we were being rude about them What an excuse! Why didn't they learn Maori? The education policy of compelling us to forget our Maori language was a fact all right. It was not nonsense, as you have said. If you read the article by Dr Biggs in Schwimmer's symposium you will realise that I was not telling falsehoods. Besides, I and my people were the sufferers, not you.
Right the facts you mention, such as the rendering of the English Bible into Maori; the compilation of dictionaries, grammar books, written literature and so on I heartily agree to. The missionaries did a great job. They always do in this connection when they start missionary work in new lands and among new people. Professor Lees, the Williams', Samuel Marsden, Bishop Maunsel and so on, as well as the missionaries of the Methodist and Roman Catholic churches, all did an excellent job, and I take my hat off to them and all the others as well. That is why today I am able to write the article which you have been criticising.
Now in your paragraph on pidgin English. What you have said is true up to a point. I might have been sensitive on this matter. Somehow and somewhere I have fell that some pakeha people have been trying to inculcate into the minds of my people and children that our Maori language is not a language at all, but a pidgin language, hence my reaction and defence. I have tried to understand pidgin language from the lectures and seminars we have been receiving this year, and have tried to understand also from the reading of our textbooks such as "The pidginisation and Creolisation of Language" edited by Dell Hymes, 1971, Cambridge University press. Then in J.B. Pride and J. Holmes' book "Sociolinguistics" on page 142 we have the definition of a pidgin language, which is "one whose structure and lexicon have been drastically reduced, and which is native to none of those who use it." And this is how I have tried to explain it. The points you make in paragraph five are no doubt correct. My point was an attempt to refute accusations that Maori is such a drastically reduced language unfit for use in schools.
On borrowing: Your paragraph 6 is, I must say, definitely wrong. I am not changing my explanation for yours, and this is universally accepted by those who have made a proper study of the English language. I have explained fully in my article that our Maori language is indigenous. It belongs to the people who owned this land before you pakeha people came. The English and European people have made a great impact with their civilisation on our peoples, just as the Scandinavians, French and Romans did on the people of England and many centuries ago, with a similar linguistic effect. I was watching on a TV programme the other night of the same kind of impact on the New Guinean people and Papuan people. The anthropologists came to the rescue of the native people and on December 1 they will have self government preparatory to independence. They will have a standard or a national language, whichever it might be—a language of their own choosing, not by compulsion from outsiders or foreigners. I am sure the anthropologists, the sociolinguists and the missionaries will be there to help.
In my second article published in Salient on September 5, which, it appears you have not read, you would see the practical example which my people can speak our Maori language with the exception, I must say, of our Maori children. But many of them want to learn their indigenous language and not only that, many pakeha children also want to learn it at school. If they so desire it, are you going to deprive them of it? Our trip to Nuhaka—Anthropology 304, Maori Society and Culture, (adv)—was a huge success according to our heads as well as the group, not only anthropologically but sociolinguistically. You read my second article on the Maori language, and after you have read it you would not compare it with the violin and ballet dancing.
"E tipu, e rea, i nga ra o tou ao
Ko o ringaringa ki nga taonga a o tipuna
Hei tikitiki mo to mahunga;
Ko to ngakau ki te Atua
Nana nei nga mea katoa.
"Grow thou, youth, for the days of your world
Your hands to grasp the tool of the pakeha,
For your bodily sustenance
Your heart to cling to the treasures of your
As a means of retaining your identity;
Your heart to God,
The Creator of all things."
This is biculturalism and bilingualism. See also Richard Benton, (1972) "Should bilingualism be fostered in New Zealand schools?" He definitely thinks it should be.