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Taking the temperature of Te Reo Māori

6 August 2015
RNZ Te Manu Kori

The health of the Māori language is about to be put under the microscope.

The Māori Language Commission has contracted the New Zealand Council for Educational Research to carry out a major project.

Twenty-three researchers will be sent to eight different rohe across Aotearoa to measure the health of te reo Māori in homes and communities.

The project, ‘Te Ahu o te Reo’, is being led by Te Wāhanga from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, which is working for Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori.

The last time the council carried out the study was in the 1970s, when researchers revealed the language was in a perilous state and at risk of dying out.

Project manager Jessica Hutchings, of Ngāi Tahu descent, said the current project would be a lot smaller, but would take the same kaupapa Māori approach.

“What’s really exciting about this research is it gives us an opportunity to undertake a smaller scale study using a similar methodology that again involves Māori community researchers visiting a sample of households and communities across the motu,” she said.

Ms Hutchings said unlike the 1970s survey, the budget was a lot smaller, but would involve some of the same communities as the first study where eight rohe had agreed to take part.

“Unfortunately there wasn’t enough pūtea to work across all of our communities in Aotearoa. So we’ve chosen communities that reflect a mix of rural and urban groupings, and a spread across Aotearoa.

“So the communities [taking part] are Ruātoki, Te Tai Tokerau, Taranaki, west Auckland, south Auckland to Wairoa, Christchurch and Tauranga Moana.”

An ambulance with signage in Te Reo Māori, in Gisborne.

Photo: Maori Language Commission / Facebook

Hinerangi Edwards, of Ngā Ruahinerangi descent, is one of the 23 lead researchers who will be based in Taranaki.

She said she would be supervising two researchers who would then select between eight to 10 different Māori whānau.

Ms Edwards said the knowledge of Te Reo of those taking part would range from having none at all, to those with a high skill level.

“The research will involve interviewing key people in our community to get their understanding of what they would like to see in research being conducted in our community, the kinds of families they’d like to see interviewed and the kinds of questions that might be helpful going forward in our community.”

Ms Edwards said the aim of the survey was not to judge people’s level of proficiency, or lack thereof, but to get a true picture of who was actually using Te Reo, and if the language was being passed on from parents to their children.

She said people would be given the chance to be interviewed kanohi-ki-te-kanohi, or face-to-face, or given the option of filling out an online survey.

“This project is about looking at Te Reo in every aspect of different families.

“Those who don’t use te reo currently and those who do. Not everybody can be interviewed in this research because the numbers are so limited in each community, but we will also have an online survey where people can participate in that way.”

She said a unique profile of each of the eight communities across the motu would be included in an over-arching report that would be presented to the Māori Language Commission in October

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