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The journey ke olatia te gagana Tokelau reaches milestone

The journey ke olatia te gagana Tokelau reaches milestone

  • 12 Jun 2023
Elders reading the Dictionary 2

(Picture caption: Elders check out the Tokelauan dictionary.)

The journey to nurture and protect gagana Tokelau has reached a critical point with the distribution of over 3000 reprints of the Tokelauan dictionary to Tokelau communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tokelau and Pagopago.

The dictionaries are a koa (Tokelau’s treasure) and were produced with financial support from the Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ (MPP) Pacific Languages Community Fund.

It has greatly supported the efforts to keep the language alive (olatia) for the Tokelau diaspora.

According to the 2018 Census, 8,000 Tokelauans were residing in Aotearoa New Zealand, compared to 1,400 in Tokelau that year.

Of those living in New Zealand, only 2,025 people of Tokelau descent could speak the language.  

Gagana Tokelau is an oral language and culture, with limited written literature accessibility regarding its indigenous and linguistic history.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Olohega, Hawai’i, Fiji, and United States of America, the Tokelau language is being used less and less in families.

This means more effort is needed to ensure future generations, the urgent support they require to learn and maintain their mother tongue.

The reprint project has been a collaboration between the Tokelau Dictionary Project Team (TDPT), Tokelau Administrators Office within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau (copyright owners), and Associate Professor Judith Huntsman.  

Distribution is a value in Tokelau’s inati system (Tokelau resource distribution) to the Tokelau diaspora and communities throughout New Zealand.  

Dictionaries have also been fakamealofa (gifted) to the likes of Hawai’i, Perth, Sydney, Townsville, Brisbane, Melbourne, Townsville and Pagopago.

The original print of the dictionaries was undertaken in 1986 by Tokelau’s tuaā (ancestors) and a survey of the Tokelauan community in Aotearoa New Zealand is being developed to seek interest in revising the Tokelau dictionary.

As a resource, the dictionary will assist efforts by Tokelauan communities, wherever they are, to strengthen the language and its use.

The goal is to develop a revised dictionary with a more comprehensive corpus (wordlist) as an effort to continue the work of revitalising and preserving te gagana Tokelau.

Tokelau elders (Lomatutua ma na toeaina) supporting the project are extremely thankful for the funding made available via MPP to distribute resources into the community.

The journey will never be over, but the dictionaries and the subsequent versions of it are a way of Tokelauans around the world to work together, so gagana Tokelau can flourish in future generations.