October 4, 2021 by Clare Coffey
The Māori language (te reo Māori) has a long, and, in recent centuries, beleaguered history. It played an important role as the lingua franca of trade during the first phase of European colonization of New Zealand. But by the 20th century, factors ranging from increasing urbanization to deliberate suppression meant that the language was in danger of extinction.
Today, te reo Māori is one of the two official languages of New Zealand, although only about half of Māori people and 3% of the general population were able to speak more than a few words and phrases as of the 2013 census. However, evidence from labor market data suggests that a truly bilingual New Zealand may be nearer than expected. Tokona te Raki Māori Futures Collective, an innovation lab dedicated to Māori success, partnered with Emsi Burning Glass to analyze job postings in New Zealand
The report found that demand for Māori language skills has grown by a staggering 325% over the past year.
The team also created a map of regional variations in job postings calling for Māori language skills, and found that demand for te reo Māori is far from evenly distributed. Nelson had the highest growth, at 800%, while only one area, Hawke’s Bay, saw a decline in demand (-31%). Nine regions saw growth over 100%, and in three regions demand grew over 300%.
These findings have encouraging implications for the economic futures of Māori people, as well as the longevity and resilience of Māori culture.
“I’m so excited to present the findings because they tell such a positive story for the future of our Māori language. It is fantastic to see employers valuing te reo as a skill; it is affirming for our whānau that our reo, which has a widely acknowledged cultural value, also has a growing value within the New Zealand economy, and our careers. It tells a story of a country that is moving towards biculturalism as te reo Māori becomes more accepted and valued,” said Hinerangi Curtis, big data researcher at Tokona Te Raki.
Try it yourself: 10 important phrases in te reo Māori
All translations are courtesy of the government of New Zealand.