Learning Te Reo Māori

It's been two and a half years since we moved to New Zealand Aotearoa. One of the most fascinating things about experiencing a new culture is learning its language – because through learning a language, you might get a glimpse into how they think and experience the world themselves. Hermeneutic ontology and language being constantly pre-formed, and all that. Te reo Māori is especially interesting as it is currently enjoying a bit of a recovery: while New Zealand wasn't really colonised in the traditional sense of the word (see the Treaty of Waitangi), the British government and british New Zealanders (pākehā) made efforts to extinguish the indigenous language, customs, and knowledge. But since the 1970s or so, there has been a very active process of decolonisation, and learning te reo is part of that process.

The first week I was in the country I had to deliver my pepeha, and since then I've tried to pick up all the language I can. It's used extensively at the university – as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand, any state-provided document must be available in te reo. Indeed, any student at the University may submit their work entirely in te reo, and any course has the option to be taught entirely in te reo. If you don't understand, that's on you, friend.

The whole process of revitalising the language is awesome and fascinating – Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) is tasked with creating new words, including for things like "selfie" (kiriāhua) – and I can't help but think about how the same might go down in the US. Sure, Duolingo has Navajo as a language option, but how many people are actually learning it and using it, and what about all the other indigenous languages? The languages around the Portland area are all gone, save the Chinook Jargon, and how many Portlanders speak that. (Extra kudos to the Grand Ronde Tribal Office in Portland for helping spread the language)

While I'm here in Aotearoa, I'll be learning all I can about the Māori language. And if/when I'm back in Portland, I'll be learning all I can about the languages of the Pacific Northwest.

Māori pronouns
Māori pronouns

 

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