Native tongue: responses to English petition

By Jim Birchall

The Times has been overwhelmed by responses to Gayleen Mackareth’s petition to make English an official language of New Zealand (December 19).

The tone of most emails received from east Auckland residents was one of general disbelief that English does not hold official status. Many people were of the opinion English should be belatedly recognised, whilst others felt such action would be waste of taxpayers’ money.

Several views were expressed that could be considered xenophobic.

One reader wrote in to say they were “astounded to learn that English is no longer classified as an official language in New Zealand.   I recall the Labour Government of the day granting official status to Maori and to Sign languages, but to declassify English which has been the official language since independence is unacceptable”.

Another believes the Treaty of Waitangi “allows English to live alongside Maori and to learn from each other. In my opinion that constitutes that Te Reo and English are official languages (legally)”.

Some people were unhappy with the prominence of Te Reo in modern society.

“I am actually quite annoyed at the way the Maori language is displayed before the English language on most official and Health Dept. publications.  Also some Govt departments are now only using Maori names. Before the Colonists there was no written Maori language.   It is totally unnecessary and irritating for TV presenters to keep using Maori in their everyday broadcasts.”

“It disturbs me that current political efforts wants’ everyone to speak Maori and allows the teaching of that language to use it surreptitiously without translation or explanation. I am aware that the Maori language is very important to the Maori people and if other races wish to learn it then that’s their ambition. But in a complex world of races and languages where would Maori stand?”

Others suggested Te Reo is not useful in a society dominated by immigrants from Asia, while some believe it makes better sense to promote English to a trading giant such as China.

“I am not trying to be a racist but cannot believe that Maori language would be beneficial to New Zealand’s trading efforts for a population that is made up of many migrants, of which the Chinese-speaking immigrants are quickly growing in numbers. We see Chinese newspapers, Chinese retail outlets, Chinese labelling of retail and professional occupations and we do not see this coming from the Maori population. I see Chinese applying themselves to learning English, so it must become an Official language.”

“When the PC brigade brought in Maori as an official language (which I believe was a stupid move and which causes no end of problems and misunderstandings), it never dawned on me, or probably anyone else, that English was not an official language”

A local resident tempered that English borrowed heavily from other languages and sees no reason to alter the status quo. “To begin with we should recognise that modern English is itself a mish-mash of numerous older languages such as Old English, Norse, Old French and the like, which has then been added to constantly over several centuries. So the idea that we need to italicise these words in text to protect the purity of English is nonsense”.

 

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