Whakatāne-based indigenous tertiary institution Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi will lead the analysis of a large and sophisticated study of the Māori language.
The institute has been selected to analyse data extracted from the internationally recognised longitudinal study, Growing Up In New Zealand.
The study of 7000 children collects detailed information about individuals and their families from before birth and into the children's adulthood.
The children are currently about 8 years old.
Professor Te Kani Kingi is the executive director of Research and Innovation at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and Māori theme expert adviser for the Growing Up In New Zealand study.
He said the scope of the statistical research would provide a unique opportunity to accurately determine the state of te reo Māori, and an evidence base for future strategy and policy.
"Analysing the data collected on Māori language use across a range of variables, including socio economic, education, psychology, health and wellbeing, would provide information over a statistically significant and representative Māori sample," Kingi said.
"Of even greater significance is that the study is longitudinal, and is therefore an incredibly powerful resource from which to develop effective policies for Māori language retention and revitalisation."
Kingi said the scale, breadth and depth of the study meant the institute could identify the primary stressors and challenges for Māori language retention and hypothesise ways to promote language use and development.
"Conclusions will be based not on theory or speculation but on careful examination of detailed statistical data," he said.
The study includes about 1700 children who identify primarily as Māori (24 per cent), 1200 Pacific (21per cent), 1000 (16 per cent) Asian, and 66 who identify as European or other.
Nearly half of all the children identify with more than one ethnic group.
"The study aims to provide comprehensive information about what shapes children's development and how interventions might be targeted to give every child the best start in life," Kingi said.
"Awanuiārangi leads the culture and identity fields of the longitudinal study. We will extract and analyse statistical data collected on Māori language use, from which accurate and robust conclusions can be drawn about the indicators and drivers for Māori language retention and revitalisation."
Kingi said previous studies and commentary on the state of te reo Māori were primarily based on self-assessment of proficiency. The longitudinal data set would provide reliable statistical evidence on an unprecedented scale.
"The study will collect this data set for another 15 years.
"This work will complement some of the work already being undertaken in this area by others and by providing a statistical base from which to develop an effective strategy for Māori development."
The project is expected to be completed by the middle of next year and will be managed by Hannah Simmonds of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.