Te reo Māori and the new government

One of the new government’s policies is that all public service departments should have their name in English, except those specifically related to Māori. They say this will help everyone to understand what each department does. Many departments have both an English and a Māori name, and now they have been told that they should use the English name first. For example, in August 2019 the New Zealand Transport Agency starting using its Māori name, Waka Kotahi, first, and in the news they were often referred to only as Waka Kotahi. Now they have to change the order back to English first.

Many people, both Māori and Pakeha (that is, non-Māori), are not happy with this decision. They want to support the use of te reo Māori, or the Māori language, because it is an important part of the culture and of New Zealand. In fact, for much of the twentieth century, Māori were not allowed to speak their language at school, so by 1970 only 5% of Māori children could speak it. There were concerns that the language could be lost. In the 1970s, there was a lot of discussion and protest about this, resulting in the Māori Language Petition being presented to Parliament in 1972. Since then, the language has been revived and it became an official language in 1987. So now many people do not want the language to be replaced by English in department names. They feel that this is an attempt to limit the use of te reo.

Another plan from the new government is to make English an official language. It may surprise you to learn that it is not already! In fact, English is not an official language by law in New Zealand, Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom, because it is used so widely in those countries. Often a language is made an official language to give it some protection or to give people the right to use it in court. However, English is not in danger in New Zealand and people can speak it anywhere, so some experts in languages and law wonder if it’s necessary to make it an official language.

Since 2006 New Zealand has had a second official language, New Zealand Sign Language. This has led to more use of NZSL in the news as well as courts. You may see Sign Language interpreters on television when there are government announcements.


petition – a written request signed by a lot of people, asking the government to do or change something

revive – to bring something back, or to make something healthy and strong again

Note: I’ll be on holiday until mid-January and may not be able to do any new stories until then. Merry Christmas and all the best for 2024!