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

[Letter from Hemi Potatau]

Dear Sir,

The Maori language can be regarded as a vernacular language. It is not a pidgin language. Why? Because it is the indigenous language of New Zealand spoken by many as a first language; whereas a pidgin language is not an indigenous one. Pidgin language is formed by the mixing up of two or more languages within an area. It is no one's first language. One country in which Pidgin English is widely used is New Guinea. It seems to me that it is due to the fact that the local peoples in order to combat the intrusion of the English language, much preferred at the time a language of their own manufacture. They were not too happy about the Australian introduction of colonisation. Their pidgin English was a compromise, and it has become very popular. When pidgin English is adopted in New Guinea as the first language of some children it could be called a creole language.

How can Maori as a vernacular language justify existance from a sociolinguistic point of New? And in relationship to English, which is the standard and the second language in New Zealand? Historically, due to British colonisation, the Maori language suffered a terrible setback during the second half of the nineteenth century, There has to be only one language in New Zealand, and that was the English language. It is a hundred years since this policy was initiated, and the Maori language is still persisting. This year 1973, there is a greater upsurge among the Maori and the Pakeha people of interest in the perpetuation of the Maori language by its introduction into the primary schools as well as in the Secondary and Universities. A great chief who died in Wellington recently had said while he was still alive: "My Maori language is of highest importance to me. I firmly believe it is a treasure given to me or any Maori as a wonderful gift from God. "Here in these words some sociolinguistic aspects can be clearly observed. His Maori language was sacred to him and so he expresses his loyalty and pride in it. It was a traditional language, it was a language of prestige, of mana and of mauri are (life-principle.) Dare anyone take it away from him even in these modern days! As a Maori, I also hold these aspects and concepts very dearly.

The question is asked, can the Maori language survive for any length of time? To me, the answer is yes, but how? It must, from a sociolinguistic point of view, keep in step with the English language. Sociolinguistics is the study of the relationship between the structure of language and its use in a social and cultural context. It deals with the full relationship between language and society.

First of all, let me discuss the language part of our New Zealand society, to try and weave it into that society. There are two languages in use in New Zealand society: the Maori vernacular language and the English standard language. Let us look briefly at the vocabulary, the lexicon. Yes, Maori in the modern setting is lacking in technical and technological terms. Some of the major languages of the world lack technical terms. They have had to borrow, and have been borrowing for some time. English itself has had to borrow many words in the past from Latin and Greek. If it had not borrowed it would not have survived to this day. Since all Americans speak English, and the populations of the British Isles, and most of the Commonwealth of Nations, it certainly appears to be a formidable language today even alongside Mandarin and Russian. Maori today is borrowing quite a few words from English, even in everyday uses. For example, the words machine (mihini), party (paati), beer (pia), hotel (hotera), Christian (Karaitiana, England (Ingarangi), Scotland (Kotarani), Irish (Airihi) and so on.

Just as there arc different varieties of English, Arabic and French, so there are different varieties of Maori just as there is classical Arabic and colloquial Arabic, so there is classical Maori and colloquial Maori. Classical Maori is most appropriate for ceremonial purposes on the marae; colloquial Maori is used for more everyday conversational purposes.

So we see that the Maori language is worthy of study from a linguistic and sociolinguistic point of view. And perhaps research will contribute to the mana or prestige of our language and encourage the pride and loyalty it will need to survive in New Zealand society.

Hemi Potatau