Last week blood-curdling screaming saw the Police storming the Dominion-Post’s offices, there to find and release a sub-editor being subjected to a brutal flogging. My how he’d sinned.
It transpired he’d run an item he should never have allowed to be published, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d put it on the front page.
This was a cry of woe from a Professor Rawinia Higgins, a language and culture specialist, these being perfectly legitimate fields of study, as also mind you, are medieval church architecture, lycanthropy and no end of other topics.
Professor Higgins is a Maori Language Commissioner and she was bemoaning the absence of progress in persuading the public to resurrect a dead language, namely maori.
Language romanticism is insane. It may surprise to learn that when I was young, to obtain a law degree required a unit in Latin. So too in Britain up to about 1950 when the best prestige private schools also saw Latin as essential. Common sense eventually prevailed.
Evelyn Waugh, the ultimate master of cynical comedy about human behaviour, sent up this thinking with his hilarious 1947 novella “Scott-King’s Modern Europe.”
Despite his often anachronist values, with Waugh they amounted more to snobbery and he was sensible enough to see the foolishness in romanticising a dead language.
English is now the universal language and compulsory in most European countries. Thus nearly 90% of continental Europeans are fluent in two languages, being their own, be it German, Spanish or whatever, and English.
The odd man out is Britain, where only about 25% of the population have two languages, they being migrants. There’s no need for British kids to learn another language as they already speak the only one which counts, even if mostly appallingly when compared with Germans and Scandinavians in particular.
Sometimes the utterly bogus argument is proffered that learning to speak another language has a double whammy benefit in having to master both the written and oral aspects.
That’s a negative factor. The brain has enormous capacity to absorb knowledge, but not so the body to acquire it. Learning anything takes time and time is finite, thus it’s important how you ration it to what counts.
For a number of reasons, mostly poor parenting, maori kids are failing badly on the school front. They’ll fall even further behind if they waste valuable learning time on pointless subjects. Making them do this on romantic grounds amounts to child abuse.
Reality is a hard pill for some to swallow.
My heart bleeds for the ‘experimental’ generation of kids who will simply discover their poor English diction precludes them from careers they may have, like, flourished in, eh? But sitting in a cafe recently listening to state school teachers I formed a view that it’s the blind leading.
Not just State teachers I’m sorry to say. All teachers have to go through the same mind rotting training at some stage. Some are astute enough to learn to fake it, others buy in and become part of the rotting carcass that is our current education system.
Bob: “English is now the universal language..”
Yes, and what a magnificent language we have been gifted; just try creating rhyme, rhythm and resonance or pin point precision in Maori. A million words to choose from (against ten thousand or so) and, undoubtedly the richest source of literature and knowledge by far. I would like to learn to read French literature as it was written – once I’ve read all the English work perhaps.
I enjoy scrabble and was browsing the scrabble dictionary recently, a simple word like ‘clean’ has twenty six derivatives – cleaned, cleaner, unclean, cleanse and so on. The greatest language there is, or ever was?
The last paragraph…
Not just maori kids failing, lots of regular NZ kids are. Primary ‘education’ is 20% maori content now. Language, spoken and written, fables, songs and (amended) history etc.
So, 20% less of the important 3 R’s.
Hardly helpful when these children grow and want to travel/work overseas. They will be disadvantaged.
The common denominator of all languages is fluidity. After emigrating to the USA from New Zealand in 2001, I found myself trying to correct young Americans with what I perceived was their butchering of the English language. In hindsight, I should have saved my breath, as the English language rules I’d learnt at Christ’s College we’re not observed in this much larger population pool. Arriving in central Phoenix and not knowing a single soul I decided to join a football/soccer team to make some new acquaintances and to show the locals how the beautiful game should really be played. What I learnt was some tricky footwork and bad Spanish words. Both have helped me enormously and I continue to play in a over 60 league with retired professionals from around the world.
Romanticism is a broad brush to consign any language to the dustbin. One must always remember that the door to a culture is through its language.
The French have it about right in my opinion, seeing their language as the essential manifestation of their culture, as opposed to markers such as race etc.
Maori does have some lovely songs, but to make the teaching of it compulsory speaks of the narrow minded currently setting the rules..
What a breath of fresh air the Commonwealth Games were, where New Zealand was used exclusively again…Bring an more international events, where the media can not be controlled in the same way it currently is in this country…
Try asking TVNZ why so many Maori words are substituting English words – ( substituting, not as well as, was what was conveyed ), and read the responses. I forgot to mention I was a person, not a cockroach. Take your life into your hands and ask some, event managers, and why changed place names have occurred. I suspect this current govt is hoping to become a hermetic kingdom – then there’s no choice, and I guess, the only hope will be the Chinese machine 🙂