Kevin Milne isn't the kind of person you'd expect to be a great defender of the Maori language.

He's a white man who grew up in the South Island so long ago he can remember the introduction of decimal currency.

But Milne gets quite agitated about the Maori language. His pet peeve is the way the locals pronounce the name of the place where he lives.

I hope he doesn't mind you knowing where he lives. It's a spot near the Kapiti Coast called Reikorangi.


The locals pronounce it as Rikki-o-rangi.

They say the rangi bit in the same way the kids at school used to say rangi when they meant something was a bit crap. Not Rangi, like the paramedic from Shortland Street. Not the right way.

It winds Milne up something proper. You can barely get through a bottle of red wine with the man before he mentions it.

You have to wonder if he has been down at the local school having a rant, because a boy from Milne's neck of the woods has been singing from the same songsheet this week and it has got him a bit of global attention.

Fifteen-year-old Finnian Galbraith — the kid with the most Gaelic name ever — has got stuck into us on YouTube for not pronouncing Maori place names correctly.

It's not that hard, he says in his online speech, to say Kapiti the way you should. Lazily, we start the first syllable off like we're about to say cat. It should sound like we're about to say car. It's a sound we already have in our language. We can't use the excuse it's too hard for our tongues.

Looks like a fair few people love — or possibly hate — what he's saying. He has had more than 200,000 views in less than a week.

Finnian reckons we still risk losing the language. He reckons every kid at school should learn at least an hour of Te Reo Maori a week.


If you just shrugged your shoulders, don't. We need this language more than we think.

There is very little that really sets us New Zealanders apart from everyone else in the Commonwealth. That's probably why we feel so at home living in Australia or London. We speak the same language, share a lot of history, like drinking beer and watching rugby.

You don't have to give up much to live somewhere else in the Commonwealth. If you miss your Vogel's, someone can bring over a loaf when they visit. If you feel nostalgic, look Dave Dobbyn up on Spotify.

Hardly any of our young people are leaving behind a language when they move offshore. Doing that is hard. There's something visceral about how much you miss speaking it to strangers in the supermarket and friends in your home. You feel a pang when the best word to sum up exactly what you're feeling is a word no one else will understand.

Language builds nations. That's why a Jewish man in the 19th century spent his life reviving a language hardly anyone spoke anymore. Hebrew was like Latin: mostly forgotten. Now it's the national language of Israel and even a 30-year-old woman in New Zealand knows a few half sentences in it.

We should give the 800,000 Kiwis living in Australia another reason to miss home. Te Reo should be compulsory in schools.

Sure, kids don't need the language to get a job when they grow up, but they probably don't need biology, either, yet we spend years teaching that.

Shabbat Shalom everyone.

Debate on this article is now closed.