Only 3 per cent of New Zealanders, fewer than 130,000, can hold a conversation in te reo Māori. However, more than 300,000 young people are studying te reo Māori at school, and 10,000 are studying it at a tertiary level. Te reo Māori is being revitalised and on this occasionthe New Zealand Post has prepared for issuing eight special stamps that celebrates the growth and adaptability of the Māori language.
The idea was to demonstrate that te reo Māori is a living language, adapting to change and keep up with the constant stream of new items and technology. David and Elisabeth were then able to create a system of portraying the words in Māori and English, with their corresponding illustrations, to depict how the new words were built. StampNews.com invites everyone to appreciate this original stamp issue.
Te reo Māori is endangered, but it has strengths - 130,000 people can use it to talk about everyday things, more than 300,000 are learning it in school, and it is being learnt as a home language by thousands of children. More people speak Māori today than in 1840, but there are fewer highly proficient speakers.
New Zealand’s parliament has set up a number of organisations to help with the rejuvenation of the Māori language. These include: Te Mātāwai, a new entity that will lead a revitalisation of te reo Māori among Māori and their tribes and subtribes; Māori Television, Te Māngai Pāho, the broadcast funding agency; and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission.
This stamp issue illustrates one aspect - the development of words and terms to ensure that the Māori language can deal with the modern world. It’s called ‘lexical expansion’. Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori approves new words and encourages the consistent use of them. New words are sometimes not new at all; they are already in use but not widely known. For example, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori worked with Māori-speaking hunters to produce a set of words for the TV programme Hunting Aotearoa. Sometimes old terms that are little used are brought back - an example is tīkoke, used on one stamp in this issue in the term whare tīkoke. Tīkoke is an old word for ‘highest heavens’ and is used for ‘skyscraper’. Words can be made from descriptive terms such as ahokore, or ‘no wire’, for wifi.
The word Aotearoa is used alongside New Zealand on each of the stamps. It is the word used for ‘New Zealand’ when people are speaking Māori. In the 1835 Declaration of Independence the term Niu Tireni is used as the name for New Zealand, as it is in the Treaty of Waitangi. Niu Tireni is now rare in speech, while Aotearoa features on our passports and our currency. Aotearoa appeared in a Māori language newspaper as early as 1854, and as Māori had no need for a word for all the islands that now make up our country, it can also be considered a ‘modern word’, even if an old one!
Developing modern words is just one aspect of the work needed for the Māori language to spread throughout New Zealand and be used everywhere, by everyone, whenever they want to and for whatever purposes they want.
Te reo Māori is a taonga, a valued possession of Māori and all New Zealanders - it is an essential part of what makes Aotearoa New Zealand. Everyone can contribute to the revitalisation of te reo Māori by making it welcome at work and in the community.