Periodically we're subject to collective hysterias, led by the media in unison with relevant bureaucrats, single-issue lobbyists and politicians, all copycat singing from the same songbook, seemingly insensitive to the silliness they're promoting. That their efforts rarely wash with the public seems lost on them.
We've had an epidemic of such inanities this year, beginning with the ridiculous assertion that we have a culture of child violence. After that had a good run, the same group promoted the equally ludicrous claim that we have a rape culture. We not only have no such cultures, by comparison it would be more accurate to claim we have a culture of darts-playing as a damn sight more people play darts, albeit still few in number, than beat up children or rampage about raping women. There's a lesson here. Whenever you hear the word culture used to support a proposition, you can be absolutely assured that it's in lieu of a legitimate argument.
Now we have the same lot at it again with a third idiocy clamour, namely promoting everyone learning to speak Maori, which we're wrongly told is part of our cultural heritage. This is an utterly unworthy objective for which tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have already been wasted, as evidenced not only by the abysmal results but also its pointlessness.
The sole purpose of language is communication and romanticising obtuse virtues about it is pretentious nonsense. Artistic expression, such as poetry and prose, is not about individual words which in themselves have no special merit, but instead their placement. The Welsh endured this foolishness by their zealots and vast sums were spent promoting their redundant language, all pointlessly as the Welsh sensibly ignored these efforts. But at least its promoters didn't have the outrageous gall to try and force it on Yorkshiremen, Scots and others, unlike the exhortations here with speaking Maori.
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Some years ago in America I met an elderly linguistics professor, reputedly the world authority on translating Shakespeare into German, and discussed the pointlessness of preserving redundant languages. He agreed with my utilitarian approach vis a vis languages' sole communication function and the silliness of romanticising or seeking to preserve them once they've done their dash.
Thousands of books are written about language, indeed I possess dozens on aspects of English and last year my own 700-page etymological tome was published. But most are explanatory histories of interest, much like stamp-collecting, to language enthusiasts, but that's it and explains why only 4 per cent of New Zealanders have bothered, presumably as a hobby, to learn Maori. The fact that even the Maori King can't speak it underlines the idiocy of forcing it on our children. In his 2006 book How Language Works, the noted Welsh linguistics professor, David Crystal, observed that linguistic nationalism invariably promoted separatist political demands, causing resentment and an unnecessarily divided community, precisely as has occurred here.
A recent New Zealand Herald editorial headed "Te reo Maori far too precious to be lost" had its author arguing that teaching Maori should be compulsory for all children. The reasons proffered were world-class tosh, namely its uniqueness, which is true of all languages, and that it provides us with an enviable cultural distinction. There's that much misused "culture" again, but envious? Who's he kidding? Find me a Mongolian or Zulu who envies us this and I'll prance down Queen St in a pink tutu. Finally, the editorialist asserted that speaking Maori gives us a set of references unknown to others, although what's possibly virtuous about that wasn't explained for fairly obvious reasons.
Te reo Maori is not lost thanks to our European colonial ancestors who recorded it in print. But its usage is now redundant and it's ridiculous to try and resurrect it, more so given that the 15 per cent of New Zealanders with Maori ancestry are self-evidently not interested in learning it. It's not part of 85 per cent of New Zealanders' history and to assert that it should be because in this nation of migrants, the first arrivals were Maori is claptrap. On that basis we should equally insist that all of our women disfigure themselves with mokos. If there's to be language compulsion let it be in widening the vocabulary of the now globally accepted international language, namely English, in which our standards are appalling. The average American waiter has a wider vocabulary than the average New Zealand lawyer and Germans speak immensely better English than the average Kiwi.
English is the most mongrel of all languages, deriving from numerous diverse sources, including here with some Maori contributions such as mana. Today the whole world strives to learn it, thus we should be grateful we were born into it and not waste valuable head space and time learning a dead language on utterly bogus grounds.
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