9 Jan 2020

Te reo Māori language at threat of extinction - academics

11:56 am on 9 January 2020

A study on endangered languages has shown te reo Māori is on its way towards extinction.

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Photo: RNZ / Rob Dixon

A group of New Zealand academics have use a mathematic, long-term trajectory to determine whether a given endangered language is headed towards extinction or recovery.

The findings, released in a Royal Society journal, compares te reo Māori learning rates to Welsh data.

With the estimated learning rates for te reo Māori, the model predicted that the language is currently on a downward trajectory within the Māori population and will not meet government targets by 2040 without a major increase in learning rates to levels above those achieved in Wales.

Teaching young Māori te reo was the best way to save the language, said one of the authors of the study, University of Canterbury's Dr Michael Plank.

"Investing in resources, investing teachers, schools and iwi to run their own language revitalisation programmes like that."

He said census data from 2008-2013 was used for the study.

He was disappointed data available was so sparse, "we need better data", he said.

But despite this, he said it is possible the trend for te reo Māori can be reversed - just like it has been with Welsh.

More than a third of the world's languages are currently classified as endangered and more than half are expected to go extinct by 2100.

According to the findings, out of about 7000 languages around the world, more than 2800 were endangered.

The study found spreading teachers too thin on the ground made it harder for a language to bounce back. Strategies suggest adult learning of te reo Māori is relatively strong and school-age learning lags behind, the research found.