Maori language week

There’s been a lot of banging on about correct pronunciation of Maori (mostly aimed at white people) this week.

Apparently in order to show respect and “mana” to the Maori language it requires us to pronounce it as we are told by the self appointed experts… really?

Like all languages pronunciation changes over time, and also it’s different between people speaking the same language. Last year I had a funny conversation with a girl at a supermarket checkout in Liverpool – we both had difficulty in understanding each other even though we were speaking the same language. A week wouldn’t go by where I would have difficulty in understanding (or vice versa) someone who was speaking English because of their pronunciation.

I don’t go around thumping my chest and demanding people respect ‘my’ language and culture and pronounce it that way I do. Indeed both here and overseas I am grateful that so many people have made the effort to learn English even if they do mangle it up from the original version (whatever that was), and really, my English is mangled ‘Queen’s English’ and itself that bares no resemblance to how English was spoken 50, 100, 200, 500 years ago – it’s evolved. English is changing faster as the use of the language has spread, even between generations the pronunciation and use of words has changed dramatically.

And so has Maori, there are regional differences in pronunciation even amongst Maori themselves. I’m not sure how Maori would take Rarotongans lecturing them about correct usage of the language (as clearly this is where the New Zealand version of Maori comes from).

By getting precious about this it just puts people off the whole Maori culture push. If we are going to overcome the whole schizophrenic cringe that exists over non-Maori New Zealanders relationship with the culture of this countries first arrivals, then academics and pushy Maori nationalists need to chill out and engage in a far less hectoring confrontational manner with the majority of the population.

Strangely enough a few months ago I was seriously thinking about taking some Maori lessons, I had learnt Maori at school long before it was compulsory, and thought it would be interesting to ‘re’ learn it. This weeks overkill has kind of put me off. I am sure I’m not alone in feeling that I want to embrace the Maori part of our culture as it is part of what makes me a New Zealander, but I am put off by the elitist attitudes of those who are self proclaimed guardians of Maori culture. If you demand large amounts of tax payers money, demand ‘respect’, and then shove it down everyone’s throats it’s not surprising that your ‘average’ New Zealander switches off. The people concerned with the survival of Maori need to be seriously considering engagement people on a far more easy going level if they want to achieve their goal.

Surely the goal would be for Maori culture to merge with the mix of other cultures in New Zealand to become part of all New Zealanders culture? I guess that would horrify the purists, but it is no more different from the melting pot of cultures that makes up so-called European culture (even narrowing it down to English culture is difficult because that is a mix that has been going on since before the Roman’s landed on the shores of Brittan).

You would have thought that anything that would keep a language alive (and get it off taxpayer funded life support) would be a huge plus. Maybe the slightly uptight PC brigade need to take a step back and consider that it’s better that Maori is spoken at all, even in a slightly mangled anglicised version. Like it or not if it does survive globalisation, it will do so in a form that probably won’t bare any resemblance to how it was spoken in the past.

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