Te ara o te reo Māori | The trajectory of the Māori language

Collating, analysing and transforming data on te reo Māori into an assessment of the current and future trajectory of the language.

The need and impact

There have been numerous interventions proposed and implemented over the last forty years to arrest the decline of te reo Māori (the Māori language) as part of a movement to revitalise the indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand. However, the number of speakers of te reo Māori continues to fall.

In 2018, the Government made a commitment to the revitalisation of te reo Māori by setting a national target of one million speakers of te reo Māori (at any level of proficiency) by 2040. However, there have been no reports in recent history that provide a complete picture of the health of te reo Māori and its revitalisation, so we are clueless as to our ‘starting point’, let alone our best strategy to reach this goal.

This project will collate, analyse, and transform data on te reo Māori into an assessment of the current and future trajectory of the language, including the impact that possible interventions may have on that trajectory.

This project will result in an assessment of the current and future trajectory of the Māori language, to inform the Government and, most importantly, Māori communities, particularly iwi (tribes), determining the best possible use of resources and interventions for the revitalisation and long-term survival of te reo Māori.

The approach

Using data on trends in te reo Māori usage rates to develop and validate a dynamical systems model for the number of speakers at different proficiency levels, the team will be able to model the current trajectory of te reo Māori, with direct reference to government targets.

We will use this model to test the efficacy of various interventions, such as making te reo Māori a compulsory part of the school curriculum, prioritising language immersion schooling, and investing in teachers. These will be parameterised in part by expert knowledge in Māori language revitalisation and in part via comparable interventions that have been implemented for other endangered languages, such as Welsh.

Research aims

  • To understand the current trajectory of the Māori language in terms of the number of speakers and what impact possible interventions may have on that trajectory.
  • To identify what resources and strategies are required to meet government targets and community self-determined approaches.
  • To develop a novel mixed methods approach to the critical question of language revitalisation, bringing together research disciplines from dynamical systems modelling, language revitalisation, computational genetics, and mātauranga (Māori indigenous knowledge).
  • To support the development of future Māori and Pasifika language revitalisation strategies and interventions through evidence.

End users of note

End users of note include Te Mātāwai (independent statutory entity charged with revitalising te reo Māori in the Māori community, mostly made up of iwi (tribes) representation), Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission), Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development), and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry for Pacific Peoples has expressed significant interest in this project’s transferability, and developing a companion project with Pasifika communities will be a key output for 2021.

People

  • Dr Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta (Project Co-Lead)
  • Professor Michael Plank (Project Co-Lead)
  • Professor Alex James
  • Professor Murray Cox