Report by Pacific Media Centre
In spite of an increase in interest in Pacific languages from second and third generation Pacific Islanders in New Zealand, critics say the government “doesn’t value Pasifika languages and cultures”. Mata Lauano of Asia-Pacific Journalism reports in the wake of Pasifika Education Centre funding cuts.
Language retention among second and third generation Pacific people is on the rise, but recent funding cuts to a major education provider is jeopardising this.
Labour MP Su’a William Sio says funding cuts to the Pasifika Education Centre could mean the demise of a charitable trust that exists to preserve, maintain and promote the use of Pacific languages.
This doesn’t bode well for the retention of Pacific languages in New Zealand, says Su’a.
In a press release about the funding cuts and the government’s playing of a “political hot potato” with who holds responsibility, Su’a says the Pasifika Education Centre is a vital community asset.
Its loss would mean the end of one of the oldest Pasifika education centres that has been serving communities for decades.
“Answers from Minister for Pacific Peoples Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga to questions around funding cuts to the Pasifika Education Centre send a clear message to Pacific communities that the survival of PEC to deliver Pacific languages and cultures is not a priority to him and the National government,” says the MP.
Funding cuts occurred despite an increase in enrolments from those wanting to retain their mother tongue, according to Loto Pasifika team manager Caroline Harris who says there has been a substantial increase.
“We’ve seen a huge increase, I’ve been in the job since 2013 and there’s been a huge increase of young people coming through to the language classes.”
Interest in Pacific languages
Data released by Statistics New Zealand from the 2013 census showed fewer New Zealand-born Pacific people could speak their native language than in the 2006 census.
Academics were predicting that at the current rate of decline at the time, some Pacific languages were on the brink of extinction.
However, over the last few years there has been an increase in young people of Pacific descent interested in learning the language of their parents, says Harris.
She says second and third generation Pacific are wanting to take the classes and learn the language, not just for personal reasons, but because they realise that as part of their work learning a Pacific language connects them better with their community.
So it becomes important professionally as well.
Overall the increase in enrolments to the Pasifika Education Centre is due to the search for cultural identity, says Harris.
“They come in because for them they tell us it’s about their identity.”
In the midst of this possible drawback to a huge resource for the retention of Pacific languages in New Zealand, the Cook Islands communities at least have gained a new language tool with the launch of the Cook Islands dictionary app.
The app is a companion to the online bilingual dictionary of the Cook Islands languages, which covers all languages and dialects of the islands.
The director of AUT’s International Centre of Language Revitalisation, Professor Tania Ka’ai, says it is important to give as much publicity as possible to the health of Pacific languages in New Zealand especially as it informs more than just language.
“Language is all about our identity; it’s an expression of who we are. It informs why we eat the food we eat. What our traditional knowledge is, from the heavens, to the sea, to the land, and to our family.”
Glen Innes librarian June Tangiia, who works closely with the Cook Islands community in the area, believes the app will be a good resource for New Zealand-born Cook Islanders trying to learn the language.
“Because we don’t have a lot of those resources in the library, having language materials like these from other sources is an excellent idea,” said Tangiia.
Rita Maro, who is part Pukapuka, Mangaian and Rarotongan, said language retention is an issue for the Cook Islands community on the North Shore as well.
Maro, who runs cultural and arts activities in the area, says her daughter is planning to set up some Cook Islands language evening classes next year, and the new app and dictionary will be a helpful resource.
“It’s good for our young ones to learn the language.”
Professor Ka’ai says the Language Centre is now primed to begin working with communities from Niue and Tokelau to start a similar project to that of the Cooks Islands, an online dictionary and eventually an app for each language.
Pacific language tools
Second generation Niuean Steven Kivatapulu Jackson says a Niuean language app would be amazing as he himself is not fluent – despite being the only one out of his three siblings who is able to speak the language conversationally.
“My other siblings can’t speak it but can understand it. I’m the only one who went to a Niuean preschool.”
He says there isn’t much in terms of resources for the Niuean language and so an app would be a great tool for the younger generation who want to retain their language but do not have time to attend classes on a regular basis.
“In terms of resources for Niuean language at least, there’s hardly anything out there and I think for a phone app it would be perfect because you carry it in your pocket wherever you go and it’s available to you at any time.”