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Watch NZH Local Focus: Maori loan words making English more Kiwi

By Hunter Calder

Waikato University Linguistics researchers are hoping to find out more about Māori words that are integrating with New Zealand English.

It's a pet project for senior linguistics lecturer Dr Andreea Calude who says she's fascinated by "this really young and new variety of English" that tells "an amazing story about the people".

She's recently been granted $300,000 from the government's Marsden Fund which supports research in Aotearoa.

"This topic is very important on a number of levels, one it is very important for us (Kiwis) as it is our language and our voice so it's what we identify with. It's part of who we are, so it tells us a story about us as a nation and as people. But on a bigger scale it's very important as it shows us how language has changed," Dr Calude says.

Increasingly Te Reo is being used by government organisations and the media and Dr Calude and her team are interested in why certain Māori loan-words, words that are borrowed from other languages, are catching on and being used in everyday English.

Over the next three years she hopes to find out why some loan words are used more than others - and if media influences "what people do in their homes" and how the perception of Te Reo is changing over time.

Although the research funding doesn't start until March, summer Research Scholar Sally Harper has already started the "legwork" going through news articles and finding Māori words that are in use in the news.

Ms Harper says she's making connections with commonly used words and says Te Reo is more common in newspapers in northern parts of New Zealand.

But the observations don't stop there. "It's interesting to notice which words I intrinsically understand having grown up in New Zealand and don't need a translation for at all. So already my reaction to different Māori words is kind of indicative of which ones are used really frequently and which ones aren't," Ms Harper says.

Dr Calude says people subconsciously use Te Reo, and most people understand "more Te Reo than you would think."

Dr Hēmi Whaanga from Waikato University's Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies says the research is another way increasing people's understanding about the "mana of the language."

"It is just raising awareness of who we [Māori] are and there is no other language like this in the world."

Despite Te Reo being integrated in everyday conversations Mr Whaanga says that doesn't mean we should assume the language is preserved forever. "There is still work to do to ensure the language is there for future generations."

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- NZ Herald

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