Strategy aims to reverse the decline in Pacific language use in New Zealand

A “first of its kind” strategy is being launched to try to reverse the trend in decline of Pacific languages in New Zealand.

4th June, 2022

Strategy aims to reverse the decline in Pacific language use in New Zealand

Salainaoloa Wilson-Uili and Ruby Hale say the Ministry for Pacific Peoples is working to revitalise Pacific languages in New Zealand.

Mina Amso

A new strategy aiming to reverse the trend in decline of Pacific languages in New Zealand, is being launched this winter.

Principal Advisor for Strategy and Development Ruby Hale says it’s a first for New Zealand, and stems from a commitment from government to invest in and support Pacific languages in the next decade.

“The strength of it is coordinating how we can best support Pacific languages, because we know that Pacific languages are significant in Aotearoa, but there hasn’t necessarily been an organised way that government can really invest and support those languages and reverse some of the trend we’re seeing with the decline in some of those languages.”

The strategy aims to increase the use of Pacific languages, and to revitalise those most at risk. Hale says government and community leaders must work together rather than in isolation to make this strategy effective

“We’re already working across government with significant other ministries like the Ministry of education, and Culture and Heritage, to look at how can we currently support Pacific languages, where are the gaps.

“We’ve already had talanoa with communities about what they want to see for their priorities. So we’re really starting to bringing everybody onto the same page first before we launch what we think we need to do,” says Hale.

The three focus areas of the strategy are recognition of the value of Pacific languages in New Zealand, strengthening pathways to learning Pacific languages, and creating the environment suitable to use Pacific languages.

In some Pasifika communities, only 7% of their 15-year-olds can speak the language and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has classified several such as Te Gagana Tokelau, Vagahau Niue, Te Reo Māori Kuki ‘Āirani and Te Gana Tuvalu, as vulnerable or endangered.

“This means the language is generally only spoken by parents or grandparents, or by children but only in their home. Many of these populations are New Zealand born, which correlates with language loss across all Pacific groups,” the draft strategy report says.

“We know that homes, families, communities, churches have been those bastions of Pacific languages,” Hale says.

But the strategy is designed to see more Pasifika languages being used in workplaces, schools and on the sports fields.

Ministry for Pacific Peoples researcher and analyst Sala Faasaulala Tagoile-Leota says the number of speakers is declining and wonders if enough is being done.

“Pacific language weeks are only the catalysts but it’s up to the people’s hearts and souls to feel a sense of belonging and secured cultural identity that actually affirms, consolidates who they are,” she says.

The Pacific language strategy will officially be released in July or August.