This report stems from a brief visit to Rarotonga in April 2013 facilitated by Roderick Dixon, Director of the University of the South Pacific in the Cook Islands and is prepared by:
Dr. Julia Sallabank
Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation,
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
9th August 2013
It addresses the following topics:
- Language maintenance / shift
There are anecdotal reports that English is starting to replace Maori in Rarotonga and in the other islands. Concerns are raised periodically which seem to be substantiated by education surveys. Very little sociolinguistic research has been carried out to date so it is unclear to what extent language shift is happening and in what areas of life.
- Languages and dialects
Official government documents stress the importance of Te Reo Maori for cultural maintenance and to strengthen Cook Islands nationhood. Te Reo Maori Act 2003 aims to create a national standard despite inter-island variation. Some informants would rather consider each island’s variety as a distinct language. How widespread is this view? In light of perceived language shift, how prevalent are language mixing and dialect levelling?
- Expatriate / diaspora members of the speech community
It is estimated that about 90 per cent of ethnic Cook Islanders live abroad, mainly in English-speaking countries. Language shift among expatriates is endemic, but some wish to (re-)learn their heritage language.
- Language policy and language in education
Official education policy promotes bilingualism and biliteracy, but there are reservations about how effective implementation of this policy is. In particular, teachers do not seem to be trained to teach Maori. It is unclear whether there is any provision for teaching Maori as a second/foreign/heritage language. Language policies often focus on education, but it is important to promote opportunities to speak the language outside school settings.
- Dictionaries of Cook Islands Maori
All previous dictionaries are out of print. There are three ongoing projects to adapt them for online access. None includes full multimedia or pronunciation guidance. Expatriates are a major target audience for online dictionaries, which need to take their needs into account.
- Records of Cook Islands Maori: (a) oral, and (b) written
Audio recordings from the 1970s are currently being digitised in New Zealand on behalf of the Language Commission. Traditional orators were also recorded between 2000 and 2005. Interface, format, levels of accessibility and security of digital archives need to be considered. It would be valuable to collect fuller samples of Te Reo Maori in everyday settings while it is still a vital community language. Audio and video clips would also enhance multimedia dictionaries. Some islanders have expressed a desire for the return of missionary records archived in London (a list is appended). Feasibility needs to be investigated, taking into account legal issues, the condition of the papers, etc. In the Proposals section I suggest an interim solution involving digital scanning; some records may already be on microfilm.
A collaborative approach is suggested which would both validate local research capabilities and paradigms, and contribute to skills development. Research results would be relevant to the local context, and thus have greater validity and reliability as well as having a positive impact on language policies and planning.