Story: Translation and interpreting – te whakamāori ā-tuhi, ā-waha hoki

Page 3. Translation into the 2000s

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Decline of translation services

For much of the 20th century the role of Māori-language translators and interpreters reduced, as nearly all Māori could speak English and many no longer spoke Māori. English was assumed to be the ‘standard’ language of New Zealand. Parliament no longer employed a translator. Māori was used mainly on ceremonial occasions, in traditional settings such as on marae and by a handful of scholars of Māori customs and language.

Māori an official language

In 1987, following political pressure, Māori was declared an official language of New Zealand and people became entitled to use it in place of English in most public situations. An increasing range of documents were made bilingual, and required the services of translators or interpreters to make them available in both Māori and English. People appearing in courts of law, whether as defendants or witnesses, were entitled to speak in Māori, and to have the English language translated into Māori. In 1996 the census form was first produced in both languages.

Nga tangata taumata rau

In 1990 the first of an eventual five volumes of Nga tangata taumata rau was published by the Department of Internal Affairs and Allen and Unwin New Zealand. This was a translation into Māori of the biographies of Māori in the Dictionary of New Zealand biography. More than 20 translators worked on this project, from a range of tribal areas, so that their translations reflected dialectal differences. It was the largest body of writing in Māori since the translation of the Bible more than a century earlier.

Māori in Parliament

In 1990 the speaker of the House ruled that an MP was no longer required to give a translation of their words following an address in Māori. In 1999 a full-time interpreter was again appointed in Parliament. By 2004 this became a full interpretation, transcription and translation service, with three (later four) full-time interpreters. In 2010 simultaneous interpretation became available in the House and the public galleries and on Parliamentary television.

Education system

The introduction of kura kaupapa (Māori-language immersion primary schools) encouraged the translation of curriculum materials into Māori. At both secondary and tertiary levels of education, students became entitled to use the Māori language in state examinations, subject to some conditions. In 2013 NCEA examination papers were translated into te reo Māori in 16 subject areas, including accounting, business studies, physics and Spanish. University students were generally entitled to be assessed in Māori for both coursework and examinations, with their university providing translation services where necessary.

First English–Māori act of Parliament

In 2013, for the first time, a full Māori translation was included as part of parliamentary legislation. Previously, legislation was enacted in English and then translated into Māori. The Mokomoko (Restoration of Character, Mana, and Reputation) Act was fully bilingual and gave equal authority to both languages.

Māori translation on the internet

As new electronic forms of communication have become established, systems of translation have developed to ensure that they are available to users of the Māori language as well as English. In 2009 Māori was added to the online translation service Google Translator Toolkit. From 2012 the social media site Facebook could be viewed in and translated into te reo Māori. In 2013 deaf New Zealanders gained access to Māori vocabulary in the Online Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language.

Native speaker

Rangi McGarvey (Ngāi Tūhoe) grew up speaking Māori, and later learned English at school. He qualified as a licensed translator and interpreter in 1999. McGarvey worked mainly for government agencies, translating reports from English to Māori, and as one of four Parliamentary translators. At bilingual hearings such as those of the Waitangi Tribunal, he provided a simultaneous English interpretation of spoken Māori. He once stated, ‘There’s definitely more work now than when I started. Agencies are more receptive, and people are more inclined to exercise their rights to speak Māori.’1

Licensing and training

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission), established under the Māori Language Act 1987, has statutory responsibility for examining and granting certificates in translation and interpreting. Toi Reo Māori is the official Māori Interpreters and Translators Licence, awarded to those who pass the written and oral examinations. In 2014 there were 116 licensed interpreters and translators, including four Pākehā.

In 2014 the University of Waikato offered a postgraduate diploma in interpreting and translating Māori. The New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters was a national body for translators and interpreters.

Translating from and to other languages

Although translation between the Māori and English languages has dominated New Zealand’s history of translating and interpreting, many other languages have also influenced the country’s culture. Some 19th-century missionaries spoke German, Italian or French as their first language. The translation of their letters, memoirs and other writings into English has provided new perspectives on early relations with Māori.

New Zealand Sign Language

The first training course for New Zealand Sign Language interpreters was held in 1985. A two-year diploma course began at Auckland University of Technology in 1992, and later was expanded into a bachelor’s degree. The Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand was incorporated in 1997.

Found in translation

In 2005 Julia Marshall set up Gecko Press in Wellington to publish children’s books, mostly in translation from other languages. Marshall had lived in Sweden and was startled to find that a much-loved book by Swedish children’s writer Ulf Stark had been translated into 20 languages – but English was not among them. ‘I said, that’s really weird, and they said, no it’s not, it’s normal,’ remembers Marshall. ‘It was such a good book … and it wasn’t translated into English. I met that again and again.’2 New Zealand writers including Catherine Chidgey and Linda Burgess have translated work for Gecko, which has won a number of awards.

Literary translation

Works by a number of New Zealand authors have been translated into other languages, and English-language books by Māori authors including Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace have been translated into Māori.

The Centre for Literary Translation opened at Victoria University of Wellington in 2008 to research issues relating to literary translation, provide support for the translation of writers' work and develop literary translation activities. In 2011 Creative New Zealand began funding the translation of New Zealand literature into foreign languages. Each year around 10 New Zealand books are published in German, although in 2012 that number rose to more than 100, mainly due to New Zealand’s guest-of-honour role at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

  1. Personal communication, May 2014. Back
  2. Quoted in Caren Wilton, ‘Found in translation,’ New Zealand Listener, 17 January 2009, p. 39. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Translation and interpreting – te whakamāori ā-tuhi, ā-waha hoki - Translation into the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 February 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 Oct 2014