Monday, April 4, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of New Zealand

Last Monday, we looked at the linguistic makeup of the Republic of the Congo, which is home to over 60 languages. This week, we're moving across the globe to New Zealand, an island country in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike the incredibly diverse Republic of the Congo, it is only home to a few languages, all of which have official status.

The Official Languages

A kiwi, a flightless bird that is a
national symbol of New Zealand.
New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language. If you're familiar with English-speaking countries, then it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that English is the most dominant language in the country. The vast majority of New Zealanders speak English as a native language, though a small minority instead use it as a second language.

In terms of pronunciation, New Zealand English is very similar to Australian English, which evolved from British English. However, it does have some unique features, including pronunciation differences and distinct lexicon.

Māori, on the other hand, is a Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people. The Māori were the first settlers of New Zealand, arriving by canoe sometime between 1250 and 1300. They continued to primarily use their own language until the mid-1900s, when English began to be used more frequently. However, it was recognized that the language was in decline by the 1980s, at which point Māori was named an official language and revitalization efforts began. Today, it is spoken by about 4% of the country's population, and is used in schools and on television.

New Zealand's most recent official language is New Zealand Sign Language, which gained official status in 2006. As you might expect, it is closely related to British Sign Language and Auslan (Australian Sign Language). One thing that sets it apart from these other sign languages is the fact that it includes signs for Māori concepts.

Foreign Languages

In addition to the three languages above, there are numerous immigrants in New Zealand who speak foreign languages. The most spoken foreign language is Samoan, the language of the Samoan Islands, which is used by over 80,000 people in New Zealand. There are also over 60,000 Hindi speakers in New Zealand, as well as over 50,000 Mandarin Chinese speakers. Other foreign languages with large numbers of speakers include French, Cantonese, German, and Tongan.