18 Oct 2017

Niue language in crisis - academic

2:02 pm on 18 October 2017

An academic says the Niue language is at crisis levels with New Zealand-born Niueans not speaking the language forefathers.

Niue's 5th Arts and Cultural festival

Photo: RNZI Indira Stewart

Niueans are celebrating their language, culture and heritage this week in New Zealand as part of the Pacific Language weeks.

The University of Auckland's John McCaffery said he had studied Pacific languages for four decades and believes the Niue language could be gone within five years.

He said less than five per cent of New Zealand-born Niueans could speak their language fluently with youths speaking English at school, work and in the home.

Mr McCaffery said the number of Niuean speakers was in danger of declining further.

"Given that about 80 percent of all Niuean people in New Zealand were born here, and without bilingual schooling the situation is a bit grim to say the least. But having said that, the Niue community appears to be the most enthusiastic, the most supportive and the most determined to do something about the language."

He said while night language classes had their place, the best way to revitalise a language is to incorporate it education curricula from early childhood to secondary school level.

New Zealand's department of statistics says Niuean people were the fourth largest Pacific ethnic group living in New Zealand in 2001, comprising 20,100 or nine percent of New Zealand's Pacific population.

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