Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 18, 2018

“An unrealistic expectation”: Māori youth on indigenous language purism

Nathan John Albury ORCID logo and Lyn Carter


Linguistic purism can play an especially political role in legitimising and authenticating indigenous identities. For languages now undergoing revitalisation after histories of colonial conquest, purism that precludes foreign influences in language corpora and behaviour can be seen as reversing the impacts of language contact and reasserting indigeneity. This is indeed the case for te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, that was suppressed and essentially outlawed by the British but is now undergoing revitalisation. How indigenous New Zealanders feel about such purism, however, has been subject to minimal inquiry. This article analyses the attitudes of around 200 Māori youth, solicited through an online survey, to purism in Māori vocabulary development and to a recurring purist discourse, commonly reproduced by indigenous elders, that criticises errors when speaking te reo Māori. The article reveals a tension between supporting purism for the linguistic self-determination of the indigenous collective, and rejecting purism on the basis this inhibits the linguistic emancipation of individuals. On balance, it appears these Māori youth may hold significantly less purist attitudes than current language policy and locally pervasive ideology.

Funding statement: This work was partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, project number 223265.


“We give our sincerest thanks to the Māori students at the University of Otago who participated in this research and whose valuable contributions can help guide discussion about the future of te reo Māori. We also give our warmest thanks to the editor for encouraging this paper, and to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions”.


Albury, Nathan John. 2016a. Defining Māori language revitalisation: A project in folk linguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics 20(3). 287–311. Search in Google Scholar

Albury, Nathan John. 2016b. An old problem with new directions: Māori language revitalisation and the policy ideas of youth. Current Issues in Language Planning 17(2). 161–178. Search in Google Scholar

Albury, Nathan John & Lyn Carter. 2017. A typology of arguments for and against bilingual place-naming in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development doi:10.1080/01434632.2016.1275654. Search in Google Scholar

Amery, Rob. 2001. Language planning and language revival. Current Issues in Language Planning 2(2–3). 141–221. Search in Google Scholar

Ara, Te. 2017. Tiro ki te ara ki te reo. Search in Google Scholar

Bauer, Winifred. 2008. Is the health of te reo Maori improving?. Te Reo 51. 33–73. Search in Google Scholar

Beaglehole, Ernest & Pearl Beaglehole. 1946. Some modern Maoris. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Search in Google Scholar

Benton, Richard. 1996. The Maori language in New Zealand. In Stephen Adolphe Wurm & Peter Mühlhäusler (eds.), Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas: Texts, 167–170. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Search in Google Scholar

Borell, Belinda, et al. 2005. Living in the city ain’t so bad: Cultural identity for young Maori in South Auckland. In James H Liu (ed.), New Zealand identities: Departures and destinations, 191–206. Wellington: Victoria University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Brunstad, Endre. 2003. Standard language and linguistic purism. Sociolinguistica 17(2003). 52–70. Search in Google Scholar

Bull, Tove. 2002. The Sámi language(s), maintenance and intellectualisation. Current Issues in Language Planning 3(1). 28–39. Search in Google Scholar

Corson, David. 1996. Official-language minority and Aboriginal first-language education: Implications of Norway’s Sámi language act for Canada. Canadian Journal of Education 21(1). 84–104. Search in Google Scholar

Cru, Josep. 2016. Shifting language ideologies among young Maya professionals: Overcoming purism in Yucatán. Critical Multilingualism Studies 4(2). 111–132. Search in Google Scholar

Degani, Marta. 2012. Language contact in New Zealand: A focus on English lexical borrowings in Māori. Academic Journal of Modern Philology 2012(1). 13–24. Search in Google Scholar

Dorian, Nancy C. 1994. Purism vs. compromise in language revitalization and language revival. Language in Society 23(4). 479–494. Search in Google Scholar

Eagly, Alice H & Shelly Chaiken. 1993. The psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. Search in Google Scholar

Grinevald, Colette. 1998. Language endangerment in South America. A programmatic approach. In Lenore A Grenoble & Lindsay J Whaley (eds.), Endangered languages: Language loss and community response, 124–160. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Harlow, Ray. 1993. Lexical expansion in Maori. The Journal of the Polynesian Society 102(1). 99–107. Search in Google Scholar

Harlow, Ray. 2003. Issues in Maori language planning and revitalisation. He Puna Korero: Journal of Maori and Pacific Development 4(1). 32–43. Search in Google Scholar

Harlow, Ray. 2005. Covert attitudes to Māori. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 172. 133–147. Search in Google Scholar

Harlow, Ray. 2007. Māori: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Higgins, Rawinia, Poia Rewi, et al. 2014. ZePA-right-shifting: Reorientation towards normalisation. In Rawinia Higgins (ed.), The value of the Maori language: Te hua o te reo Maori, 7–32. Wellington: Huia Publishers. Search in Google Scholar

Hinton, Leanne. 2017. Learning and teaching endangered Indigenous languages. In Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl & Stephen May (eds.), Second and foreign language education, 213–223. Cham: Springer International Publishing. Search in Google Scholar

Houkamau, Carla A & Chris G Sibley. 2010. The multi-dimensional model of Māori identity and cultural engagement. New Zealand Journal of Psychology 39(1). 8–28. Search in Google Scholar

Karetu, Timoti. 1993. Tooku reo, Tooku mana. In Witi Tame Ihimaera, Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden & D.S. Long (eds.), Te ao marama. Regaining Aotearoa. Māori writers speak out. Volume 2, He whakaatanga o te ao. The reality, 222–229. Auckland: Reed Books. Search in Google Scholar

Keegan, Peter. 2005. The development of Māori vocabulary. In Allan Bell, Ray Harlow & Donna Starks (eds.), Languages of New Zealand, 131–150. Wellington: Victoria University Press. Search in Google Scholar

King, Jeanette, Ray Harlow, Catherine Watson, Peter Keegan & Margaret Maclagan. 2009. Changing pronunciation of the Māori language. Implications for revitalization. In Jon Reyhner & Louise Lockard (eds.), Indigenous language revitalization. Encouragement, guidance & lessons learned, 85–96. Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University. Search in Google Scholar

Kroskrity, Paul V. 2009. Language renewal as sites of language ideological struggle: The need for “ideological clarification”. In Jon Reyhner & Louise Lockard (eds.), Indigenous language revitalisation: Encouragement, guidance & lessons learned, 71–84. Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University. Search in Google Scholar

Langer, Nils & Winifred V Davies (eds.). 2005. Linguistic purism in the Germanic languages. Pages. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. Search in Google Scholar

Levine, Robert A. 2001. Culture and personality studies, 1918–1960: Myth and history. Journal of Personality 69(6). 803–818. Search in Google Scholar

MacIntyre, Peter & Tammy Gregersen. 2012. Emotions that facilitate language learning: The positive-broadening power of the imagination. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching II-2. 193–213. Search in Google Scholar

Māori Language Information. 2014. FAQ About the Māori language. Search in Google Scholar

May, Stephen & Richard Hill. 2005. Māori-medium education: Current issues and challenges. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 8(5). 377–403. Search in Google Scholar

Pennycook, Alastair. 2006. Postmodernism in language policy. In T Ricento (ed.), An introduction to language policy: Theory and method, 60–76. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Search in Google Scholar

Preston, Dennis. 1996. Whaddayaknow?: The modes of folk linguistic awareness. Language Awareness 5(1). 40–74. Search in Google Scholar

Reedy, Tamati. 2000. Te Reo Maori: The past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics 39(1). 157–168. Search in Google Scholar

Sevinç, Yeşim. 2016. Language maintenance and shift under pressure: Three generations of the Turkish immigrant community in the Netherlands. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 242. 81–117. Search in Google Scholar

Sevinç, Yeşim & Jean-Marc Dewaele. 2016. Heritage language anxiety and majority language anxiety among Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands. International Journal of Bilingualism doi:10.1177/1367006916661635. Search in Google Scholar

Spencer, Liz, Jane Ritchie & William O’Connor. 2003. Analysis: Practices, principles and processes. In J Lewis & J Ritchie (eds.), Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers, 199–218. London: Sage Publications. Search in Google Scholar

Spolsky, Bernard. 2004. Language policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Stewart, Georgina. 2010. Commentary: Language issues in Māori chemistry education. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 6(1). 66–71. Search in Google Scholar

Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori. 2016. Annual report. Search in Google Scholar

Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori. 2017. Whakahuatanga: Pronunciation. Search in Google Scholar

Trinick, Tony & Stephen May. 2013. Developing a Māori language mathematics lexicon: Challenges for corpus planning in indigenous language contexts. Current Issues in Language Planning 14(3). 457–473. Search in Google Scholar

Walsh, Michael. 2005. Will Indigenous languages survive?. Annual Review of Anthropology 34. 293–315. Search in Google Scholar

Wei, Li. 2017. Translanguaging as a practical theory of language. Applied Linguistics doi:10.1093/applin/amx039. Search in Google Scholar

Whanake, Te. 2017. Māori dictionary. Search in Google Scholar

Zuckermann, Ghil’ad & Michael Walsh. 2011. Stop, revive, survive: Lessons from the Hebrew revival applicable to the reclamation, maintenance and empowerment of aboriginal languages and cultures. Australian Journal of Linguistics 31(1). 111–127. Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2018-09-18
Published in Print: 2018-10-25

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston