Friday, April 08, 2016

Te Reo in Peril: The Māori Language in the 19th Century

In a revelatory and hard-hitting new book Ka Ngaro Te Reo, Auckland historian Paul Moon charts the near-demise of te reo through the nineteenth century. Calling on a vast range of published and archival material, as well as oral histories and contemporary Māori accounts, Moon probes deeply into the forces of colonisation that pushed te reo perilously close to extinction.

‘In 1800, te reo Māori was the only language spoken in New Zealand,’ says Professor Paul Moon. ‘By 1899, the language was in danger of being lost forever.’

For most Maori the language and the people were one: the possibility of living without te reo was inconceivable. Te reo was more than a language – at stake was not just the Maori lexicon but the associated ideas, ways of knowing, perceptions and modes of living.

Ka ngaro te reo, ka ngaro taua, pera i te ngaro o te moa.
If the language be lost, man will be lost, as dead as the moa

Ka Ngaro Te Reo shows how the disruption inflicted on Maori society as a consequence of colonization precipitated the breakdown in the use of te reo, despite small pockets of seeming support – English speakers learning te reo, translations of English publications into Maori language, maintaining te reo in the church, native schools etc. The destructive, almost innate European aversion to te reo saw cultural and social pressures increasingly eviscerate the language.

The profound undermining of the language during the nineteenth century cast a long shadow. Ka Ngaro Te Reo, the first study of its kind, is of critical importance for understanding the vitality of the Maori language today within the increasing complexity of New Zealand’s linguistic landscape.
 About the author: 

Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology, where his research focuses on nineteenth-century New Zealand. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society at University College, London, and he was also recently elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Paul’s most recent books include Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand (Penguin), which was shortlisted in 2013 for the international Ernest Scott Prize in History.

Ka Ngaro Te Reo
Māori language under siege
in the 19th century
 Paul Moon
ISBN 978-1-927322-41-3, $39.95

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