24 Jul 2014

Warning minority dialects could be lost

12:53 pm on 24 July 2014

A national campaign to promote Maori language week is underway with 50 words over 50 weeks - but some Te Reo advocates fear tribal dialects could be lost because of a push to learn a standardised version of Maori.

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Photo: RNZ

Across Aotearoa there are about seven different dialects still being spoken. But when it comes to the Taranaki-Whanganui and Ngai Tahu dialects, there are fewer native speakers and the Moriori language is virtually extinct.

In Northland, instead of hearing whakarongo which means to listen - with a sharp F sound at the beginning of the word - you are more likely to hear it being pronounced as "hakarongo".

Tuhoe speakers in Bay of Plenty change the "ng" sound into an "n" sound and whakarongo becomes: "whakarono".

In Taranaki and Whanganui, the "wh" sound becomes a glottal stop - where the "h" is lost altogether, so whakarongo becomes: "w'akarongo".

Ngai Tahu speakers in the South Island change the "ng" sound into a "k" sound and it becomes: "whakaroko".

Pita Sharples.

Pita Sharples. Photo: MAORI PARTY

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples says he is confident the new Maori language governance entity, Te Matawai, will reflect all of the main tribal dialects.

"It's good to have participants who represent the different mita (dialect) whether they speak them or not and that are chosen by their dialectual regions so that they truly represent our elder's traditional languages, because they are quite different to the ear."

Te Manu Korihi then asked the minister when it comes to minority dialects such as Taranaki-Whanganui and Ngai Tahu if those regions would get fair representation. Dr Sharples said he is confident that their languages will be represented on Te Matawai.

But Parliament's Maori cultural co-ordinator Kura Moeahu, who speaks the Taranaki mita, says his dialect is under threat.

Mr Moeahu says over the past 30 years because there were fewer native speakers of his dialect, Te Atiawa descendants living in Wellington had to be taught by speakers from other areas.

"Those kaiako (teachers) that came into the kohanga reo movement from Tuhoe and Ngati Porou, will, firstly thank you, because you allowed us to learn the Maori language.

"We knew that in time that eventually - ka hoki ki te ūkaipō ki te kimi kōrero - one day some of our own will want to learn their own dialect. So in terms of where we were 30 years ago we've come a long way, in terms of where we are now we still have a long way to go."

While Taranaki dialect speakers are worried that their language could be lost, the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands no longer have any speakers left.

The Hokotehi Moriori Trust general manager, Maui Solomon, says if someone was to carry out some research with an effort to revive the language there could be some hope.

"It's something that needs a lot of attention and effort from this upcoming young generation do to thesis to have wanaka (workshops) to really look at other models of reviving the mita (dialects) - Ngai Tahu would be one, the Welsh and the Gaelic languages, even the Taranaki dialect. There are a lot of minority Maori dialects in Aotearoa.

"It's a great dream, but I think it's probably one that could be accomplished with enough vision and commitment to it."

Although the Moriori language hasn't been spoken for more than 100 years there is enough written material held in libraries across New Zealand to reconstruct the basis of the language, Mr Solomon says.