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Review offers insight into Pacific language revitalisation

Review offers insight into Pacific language revitalisation

  • 20 Dec 2021

Literature on Pacific language revitalisation and maintenance in New Zealand is limited, however a recent review will help us to better understand ways to nurture languages in Aotearoa. 

The recently published, Global to local: Understanding models of community language revitalisation for Pacific languages in Aotearoa New Zealand – a literature review aims to identify some of the most effective and successful community-based language learning initiatives and best practices available. 

This is according to research globally which can be adopted and applied in New Zealand. 

Commissioned by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) and researched and written by Te Ipukarea Research Institute’s Professor Tania Ka‘ai (pictured), Nogiata Tukimata, and Tania Smith-Henderson, the review is a key deliverable of the Budget 2019 languages investment. 

Professor Ka’ai says her team became involved in the project after being approached by MPP to submit a proposal for the piece of work. 

“So, Te Ipukarea responded, and we were successful - the work was a team effort, and I must acknowledge Nogiata Tukimata, one of our PhD students and Tania Smith-Henderson, Executive Administrator for their respective roles,” Professor Ka’ai says. 

Of Māori (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou), Hawaiian, Cook Islands and Samoan heritage, Professor Ka’ai has had an illustrious career, and still holds numerous roles. 

These include Professor in Language Revitalisation in the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), Director (Te Ihorei) of Te Ipukarea Research Institute and also Te Pou Māori-Associate Dean Māori for the faculty, and Vision Mātauranga Advisory Team Lead for the Research and Innovation Office at AUT.

When preparing the review, the team worked off a brief which explored the breadth and the availability of current literature that offers insight into three key research questions, Professor Ka’ai says. 

“We looked at what language revitalisation approaches have been successful for Indigenous and minority language communities; what are the success factors; what models of community language learning have been identified as being most effective with adults, young people and in the digital space to address language revitalisation, and what makes them successful. 

“And thirdly, how might the language revitalisation approaches and factors identified in the review be applied to the development of strategies to address Pacific language revitalisation in Aotearoa New Zealand.” 

“It is my view this piece of work answers these questions, providing a set of key recommendations to inform language strategies for Pacific languages here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the efforts that are being made by MPP to target language revitalisation.” 

While none of the findings surprised the Professor and her team as they are immersed in this field of study, she says there was more urgency expressed throughout the literature to increase proficiency of language speakers of endangered languages as native speakers and primary sources of knowledge, become fewer. 

“We found a variety of language revitalisation approaches should be implemented concurrently to support different types of learners, and learning takes place in informal, as well as formal domains.” 

Professor Ka’ai says successful approaches to language revitalisation featured strongly in the literature included immersion, expert support, exchange of good practice, and the use of media and new technologies. 

“What we learned from the findings is that language revitalisation is best supported when immersion environments are provided for learners; learning is connected to both language and culture; learners acquire some language before beginning a mentor relationship; and learning takes place in informal domains. 

“We found it is best supported when learning is enjoyable and supported; speaker networks are maintained after an initiative is completed; and committed individuals champion the language. 

“Support from experts such as elders, language planners, linguists and researchers, is essential for individuals to become the experts for their own language communities.” 

For Professor Ka’ai and her team, it has been a wonderful experience to be able to contribute to the development of resources to support the Pacific Languages Unit, she adds. 

Ta’i Richard is the Director of Languages at MPP, and he says as a vaine o te Moana and leader, pioneer and academic with numerous publications in the field of languages and language revitalisation, especially te reo Māori and te au reo o te Moana, Pacific languages, it is only fitting Professor Ka’ai is the lead researcher and author for this work.   

Read Global to local: Understanding models of community language revitalisation for Pacific languages in Aotearoa New Zealand – a literature review