Maori youth are not speaking in Te Reo Maori because it lacks the "cool" factor and expressions for social media, a Massey University study has found.

The PhD thesis by Dr Hinurewa Poutu, written entirely in Te Reo Maori, found that that while school was the main domain where the language was spoken, youth switched to English for social interactions and social media.

"English tends to be used socially as there aren't enough opportunities to hear Maori in social situations or to learn Maori expressions for gossiping with your friends, courting, playing," Dr Poutu said.

"For most kids, Te Reo Maori is used in formal contexts only.

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"We need to put more emphasis on colloquial usage. 'Make it cool' is a key message."

She said words like "wekeneru" - a slang term coined by teens to mean awesome, wicked or to convey a sense of wonder - will make Te Reo more relevant in their lives and contribute to the language's future.

Another cool word according to Dr Poutu is "pororanaka", a slang used to describe something lame, dumb or stupid.

An online survey of 478 people, from high school students to those in their early 30s, was 51 face-to-face interviews with staff and graduates of Maori medium schools were conducted for the report.

The survey found the top three things youth in wharekura talk about with their friends everyday are music, Facebook and twitter, and school sports.

"These are all social contexts," said Dr Poutu, who is a board member of the Maori Language Commission. "Promoting the language in contexts that youth find appealing is important in making the language 'cool' for them."

She chose the topic for her thesis because recent census data suggested a decline in Maori language speakers.

"In the 1980s there was a big, passionate movement and drive. Now that you see buildings like ours (Mana Tamariki), with Maori Television on air, it gives a false impression the language is alive and well," Dr Poutu said.

"But we're at that critical stage now where we have to be proactive engaging in revival efforts."

Maori was not the main language at home for some students currently attending Maori medium schools, her survey found.

Participants said being bilingual opened two worlds and made them more comfortable in Maori situations and connected to the spiritual element - wairua - of their culture.
Her thesis is titled 'Kia Tiori ngā Pīpī: Mā te aha e kōrero Māori ai nga taitamariki o ngā wharekura o Te Aho Matua?', which is translated as: 'May the chicks sing: What leads to Māori language use among youth raised in wharekura that adhere to Te Aho Matua?'

About half of 134 older respondents who had been through language immersion now have children, and half of them spoke only Te Reo Maori to their children and more than half used the language some of the time.

Dr Poutu said the study had given optimism about "the passion out there" for Te Reo Maori.

"There's a love for the language and desire to pass it on to the next generation and to use it," she said.

"A desire for it to be normal, to go to Pac 'n Save and speak Te Reo, that's the long term goal."