Ryan Bridge: Compulsory Te Reo will not save the language

09/09/2019

By Ryan Bridge, Magic Talk Drive host.

I tell you what I'm going to talk about and it's to do with Māori  language week and it's the idea of compulsion.

Compulsory Māori in schools across New Zealand, ‘let’s force the kids to do it, that'll save the language’ says the Green party.

They’ve been harping on about this for a couple of years now, it's absolute nonsense.

Anyone who tells you that they can save a language, an indigenous language, through compulsion is lying to you through their teeth.

You only have to look at recent examples of people trying to do this to realise that compulsion is about the dumbest thing you can do to try to revive a language.

In Fact if you look at Dr Paul Moon, a history professor at Auckland University, he says “to claim that compulsion is the best way to ensure Te Reo thrives reveals and exceptional ignorance about language and the experience of other indigenous countries”.

I want to point you to Ireland first and foremost, in 1921 they made the Irish language compulsory.

After a century the language is in sharp decline.

The Tamil language, one of Singapore's four indigenous languages is compulsory, didn't work. Luxembourgish, which I'd love to hear a bit of if we can find some, is compulsory in schools since 1912, now nearly extinct.

The Welsh had a crack in 1990 along with a whole raft of other state-sponsored plans and ideas for reviving the language it's also in sharp decline. Trying to force people to learn a language which they have no interest in learning is in no way going to bring it back from the brink of extinction.

In fact history has shown us it will do the opposite.

A language war, in my view, is won and lost in the home from the age of zero until about the age of five. Yes, it is possible to learn a language after that but you have to be very interested in doing so.

I take you now to Auckland Grammar School where they have had compulsory Te Reo in year nine for years, quite forward thinking they thought. Guess how many students in year nine to begin with, 500. Guess how many opted, chose of their own free will, to continue learning Te Reo after year nine, 30.

OK, so we force it on 500 kids 30 of them decide to continue with it, is that going to save a language?

People have already voted with their tongues and it is not for Te Reo Māori .

English is the language of business. It is universal, it is global. Don't get me wrong, it's a bastard mongrel mashup, is English, but it's well understood.

And that's the appeal of English.

Ryan Bridge is host of Magic Talk Drive Weekdays 3-7pm