Te reo Māori is the language of the Māori people of New Zealand. It was made an official language of New Zealand in 1987. In 2013, 21.3% of Māori and 3.7% of the total population could speak te reo Māori.
Māori is a Polynesian language, part of the Austronesian language family. There are three major dialects – eastern North Island, western North Island and South Island Māori.
Pākehā encounter te reo
The first Europeans in New Zealand had to learn Māori to communicate. Some married Māori women and had children who were bilingual.
Māori was not a written language before Europeans arrived. Early spelling was varied, but became more standardised from the 1820s. Missionary William Williams published a Māori dictionary in 1844. Writing in Māori became important as Pākehā tried to buy Māori land. Missionaries translated the Bible for their converts.
As European settlement increased, there were more English speakers. Māori communities mostly continued to speak Māori. In the later 19th century laws specially affecting Māori were translated into Māori, and interpreters were appointed to Parliament.
Missionary schools had operated in Māori, but from 1847 children had to be taught in English. In the 19th century traditional oral literature was written down and Māori-language newspapers were published.
By the early 20th century more Māori spoke English as well as Māori. Over the 20th century the education system promoted English, many Māori men died in the world wars, and urban migration increased contact with Pākehā. English became the main language spoken in Māori homes, and many Māori saw it as the language of success and advancement.
In the later 20th century Māori studies courses were set up in universities. Some students became aware of issues such as land rights and language loss. In 1972 over 30,000 people signed a petition asking for te reo Māori to be taught in schools.
In the 1970s some high schools began teaching te reo Māori. From 1982 kōhanga reo (pre-school language-learning nests) were set up. Kura kaupapa and wharekura (Māori-language schools) also opened.
Māori-language radio stations began broadcasting in 1987. Māori Television was set up in 2004 and its Te Reo channel started in 2008.