When talking to Māori friends nowadays I easily fall into the use of what little te reo I know.
I have been since the mid-70s when an old friend and work mate would greet me every morning in the Wellington Central police station yard with "kia ora Ratts".
Having a Māori dad I grew up hearing Māori terms such as taihoa, e hoa, whare, waipiro to name a very few.
As a child I never even realised that they were Māori words. Everyone in my neighbourhood used them.
Over the years I have taken the trouble to learn more but I will never be fluent.
I am glad to say my Māori niece and nephew and Pākehā grandchildren probably will be.
Talking with my Pākehā family and friends we now, often unconsciously, use Māori words more than ever before.
New Zealand's English is evolving to reflect the Polynesian origins of our country's people.
I hope this is regarded by both cultures as a good thing. It makes Pākehā different from other English speakers.
The danger could be of developing a Māori/English patois as has happened in other places with other cultures.
Such examples could easily develop in parts of New Zealand with a high Māori population.
With newsreaders, media people and public figures of all hues and walks of life appearing on television every day talking and correctly pronouncing te reo this is helping many Pākehā to become used to the language and to accept its normality in New Zealand today.
It is also attuning the ears of Pākehā who use or try to use te reo in their daily lives, ensuring that pronunciation ceases to be an issue in time.
This coupled with our young learning te reo and Aotearoa/New Zealand's true colonial history as part of the school curriculum must surely be a good thing. Barriers between the cultures will continue to tumble.
It is hard to regard someone as different if you understand their language and know their customs.
Language is an interesting subject, forever changing and forever being added to. Both English and Māori, the two official spoken languages of New Zealand, have changed since colonial times and are continuing to change.
New Zealand English seems to have now adopted the word mana to describe a person of great respect and standing.
The way we talk has also changed in recent times.
Watching and listening to old film and television newsreels, it is clear that our forebears spoke a clearer, more precise version of English than we do, with a more British-based accent than present today despite being New Zealand born.
The English we speak today would bear little resemblance to the ear of a person from only 200 to 300 years ago. We would struggle with their spoken version of English as well but it is the same language, just changed by time, the influences of other cultures and fashion.
Written English has changed in the last 200 years as well, less formal nowadays, maybe not as precise, some letters not recognisable as such today, for example a modern "s" portrayed as "f".
Going back 400 to 500 years the modern English-speaker would really struggle somewhat understanding the written English words of those times, let alone the spoken version.
An interesting and somewhat exciting thought is what will New Zealanders talk in 100 to 200 years? By then the shrinking cultural barriers we have today should have disappeared completely and we will be, hopefully, more united whilst still retaining cultural identities.
There could be parts of New Zealand with regional dialects such as in Britain and the USA.
There could be a language comprised of both Māori and English used in parts of the North Island but an updated, accented version of English still used in the South Island or areas of low Māori population.
Southland people have always had a distinct Scottish burr to their English so anything can happen in a small country.
Will Māori and English still be distinct languages on their own?
I personally hope so but people being people, shortcuts will be taken in both cultures to learn language, perhaps resulting in sentences made up of Māori and English with perhaps Indian and Chinese thrown into the mix as well. English is already a mixture of tongues, German, French and some Indian. Could the same happen here in time?
There is still some edginess in parts of Pākehā society nowadays about accepting and using te reo generally.
This will fade with the passing of time and the ongoing education of our young.
The ability to talk in more than one tongue is a gift worth receiving for everyone.