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Local Government Act and Macrons on Place Names (edited)

© Peter Zohrab 2010

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(Open Letter to the Minister of Local Government)


When I was at Law School, my first year tutor covered the Treaty of Waitangi, but just happened not to get to Article the third, which implies that Maoris have the same rights as everyone else. The Court of Appeal, under Sir Robin Cooke, seems to have taken the same line, when it talked of the "Principles" of the Treaty.

I am writing to suggest that:

  1. The Local Government Act 2002 be revised, so as to make it clear that there is nothing in the "Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" that allow councils to subvert democracy by giving Maoris a back-door channel to influence decisons;

  2. You consider investigating whether the Kapiti Council District Council breached s. 14(1)(a)(i), which required it to conduct its business in an open, transparent, and democratically accountable manner, when it decided to put macrons on the words "Kapiti", "Otaki" and "Paekakariki";

  3. You take a stand in defence of New Zealand English, which is an official language, and stop Maori being considered the only official language, with regard to place names.

According to the Kapiti Observer of March 11 2010,

at a meeting last year between Kapiti Coast District Council and its iwi partner, ..., it was decided that macrons would be added to ... Otaki, ... Paekakariki, and ... Kapiti, to aid pronunciation....

I am a Linguist (in both senses of that word) and I have given a paper at a Wellington Sociolinguistics seminar (i.e. a conference) on the topic of the pronunication of words of Maori origin in English. I believe that no one in the Council or its iwi partner (judging by an interview on TV3 on 10 March 2010) is competent in Linguistics.

There are two languages involved here: Maori and English. The Council appears to recognise only one: Maori. In other words, it is racist. Written English does not have macrons, and spoken English does not have a distinction between long and short vowels. Maori does have macrons in writing, and a distinction between long and short vowels in speech.

Maori, English and New Zealand Sign Language are the three official languages of New Zealand. I don't suppose that it is possible to incorporate sign language on signs, but if the Council were to incorporate both an English version (without macrons) and a Maori version (with macrons) of the place-names Otaki, Paekakariki, and Kapiti on Council documents and property, that would be fitting – indeed, admirable.

However, to convert the present signs, which are in English, to Maori-only signs would be racist. The present, English-only, situation may well be racist, but the Council's plan of action is not an improvement on that.

Maoris are known to be racist on the issue of the pronunication of words. Huge numbers of English words (including proper nouns) have been taken into the Maori language and are (naturally enough) pronounced according to the constraints of Maori phonology. However, the Maoris have, for historical reasons, got a bee in their bonnet about English speakers doing the same, i.e. pronouncing words of Maori origin according to the constraints of English phonology

New Zealand is the only country in the World which has this fetish about letting one language's speakers pronounce words any way they want, while insisting that speakers of another language accept orders from another language's speakers about how to pronounce words!


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Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

21 May 2023