Back in the day, Maori people were a small indigenous tribe living in nature. They had their own lifestyle, culture and language. When Europeans settled down on their island (New Zealand) they brought English with themselves. European settlers started reclaiming the land by building cities and schools. In a while, Maori people had to move to the towns to send their children to the schools where the medium of instruction was English. Little by little, they shifted from speaking Maori to speaking English as there was no demand in their native language. This process of language shift lasted for about a century when people finally realised that they were losing their language and they have to do something.
Benton (1997) indicated three main reasons for language shift: (1) the speakers are less in number that the other language speakers; (2) they do not have a distinct area of habitation; (3) the language is less prestigious than the other one. These factors were contributing to the decrease in use of Maori language for a long period of time. According to the author, in 1995 about 16% (44000 people) were able to communicate in Maori on a medium or high level, and 63% could understand Maori through listening. In his consequent research, Benton (2015) indicated the number of people who speak Maori well or very well (11%) relying on the survey be Department of Statistics of New Zealand. Due to the limited exposure to the language, it was natural for the speakers to lose their proficiency. The language activists and the families that wanted to revitalise their language started a campaign to bring their language back to live by doing as follows:
- Recognition of Māori as an official language was the first step in revitalising the language.
- Maori Language Commission has also been established to consult the government.
- Maori has been included into the curriculum in primary and secondary schools as a subject. Later, pre-schools with Maori medium of instruction have also been established. By 2013, about 22000 children were receiving half of their subjects in the Maori language.
- A special day of Maori language and Maori language week (Benton, 2015).
- The linguistic landscape of New Zealand has also been changed. Gradually, all the signs at public places started appearing in two languages.
- New Zealand Maori Council and language activists managed to open a Maori television channel in 2008 where the programs were partially in the Maori language.https://tas2013year7.wikispaces.com/Maori+Week+2013
Ministry of Education developed a curriculum of “full immersion” which could be afforded only by a few schools as it constituted a larger part of a national budget (Benton, 2015). Additionally, the teachers in such schools were also Maori learners who did not have a capacity to teach children to be fluent in Maori. All of this is the result of the efforts by language activists and all Maori people who pushed the government to help them. Additionally, in order to overcome the barrier, parents and teachers started visiting language courses and conversing with each other. Gradually, some families started talking Maori at home. Maori speakers visit TED talks in order to spread the awareness of Maori language and encourage people to speak it. Despite all the hardships, Maori speech community is one of the few communities who managed to revitalise and maintain their language. And it is just a beginning.
What do you think could be applied to the language situation in Kazakhstan? Which of the steps above could be helpful to revitalize the minority languages in our country?
Benton, R. (1997). The Maori language: Dying or reviving?. New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Wellington, NZ: East West Center
Benton, R. (2015). Perfecting the partnership: Revitalizing the Maori language in New Zealand education and society 1987-2014. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28(2), 99-112.