5 Mar 2014

Taranaki dialect under threat

12:00 pm on 5 March 2014

A Taranaki Maori language speaker says if bigger efforts aren't made in Wellington to maintain and promote the Taranaki dialect, it could be extinct in 30 years' time.

The distinctive Taranaki dialect with its glottal stop - the dropping of the H - is the language spoken by Wellington's mana whenua iwi - Te Ati Awa.

Parliament's Maori co-ordinator, Kura Moeahu, says in order for the Taranaki dialect to thrive it must be spoken not only on the marae but in people's homes and in the community.

He says if they just leave it to the three tribal marae in Wellington - Pipitea, Te Tatau o te Po and Waiwhetu - to try to maintain the mita (dialect, it won't survive.

Mr Moeahu says it's time for Taranaki language speakers to think about establishing special kura that teach the dialect from year one right up to doctorate level.

He says 30 years ago there were fewer Taranaki language speakers but all of them were native speakers, as opposed to today where there are more speakers but nearly all are second language learners.

Naenae School teacher Matiu Jennings.

Naenae School teacher Matiu Jennings. Photo: RNZ

The new head of Maori language studies at Naenae College, Matiu Jennings, of Te Atiawa descent, moved from his job with the Ministry of Education in Hamilton to Wellington to reconnect with his Taranaki tikanga, and especially to learn more about his native dialect.

He said he was prepared to make that sacrifice, to not only learn more about his identity, but to uphold the mana of his ancestors.

Tautoko Ratu, a Maori radio announcer on local iwi station Atiawa-Toa FM in Lower Hutt, said because Taranaki descendants are outnumbered by Ngati Porou and Tuhoe in Wellington, it's easy for the Taranaki mita to be drowned out.

Mr Ratu said without institutions such as Te Reo o Taranaki - which runs wananga or workshops in Wellington, Nelson and the Chatham Islands - the Taranaki dialect would struggle to survive.

He says Waiwhetu Marae is the only hub, and probably the last bastion, of the Taranaki dialect in the Wellington region.