Monday, September 3, 2012

Lucia Compulsory Maori Language is a bad idea

Yet again there are calls for Maori to be made compulsory for all school children in New Zealand because it is an official language (according to National Radio this morning). Strangely, enough however, the other official language in NZ, sign language, is not regularly promoted in the same way.

Learning a second language at school is just as important as maths and English, according to the chairman of the Maori Statutory Board.

David Taipari's comments follow a recommendation that the Maori language should be compulsory in all Auckland schools.

The suggestion is part of a raft of changes the Maori Statutory Board want to see in New Zealand's biggest city that could cost more than $30 million a year.

Taipari told TV ONE's Breakfast he disagreed with Auckland Mayor Len Brown's claim that mathematics and English are probably more important to learn than another language.

Long time readers will know my opinion on compulsory Maori - I'm against it. I have no problems with children learning Maori at school if they so desire and their parents are happy for them to do so, but I am against the compulsory teaching of a language that will give the children only minor benefits. Not all languages are equal, and a second language should confer more than just the benefit of being a second language, otherwise (besides the fact that it would have very little for a New Zealander) why not learn Swahili? Apparently more than 60 million people worldwide speak Swahili, compared with the relatively small numbers who would know Maori, were every single person in New Zealand forced to learn it.

It is definitely worthwhile teaching children a second language - at the very least it will improve their English, no matter what Len Brown apparently thinks.  However, if effort is going to be put into a second language, why not choose the best?  Why be colloquial about it, beyond what Maori want?  Why not connect back to the educated ancients upon whose shoulders we mortals merely ride on?  Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a writer of numerous books explains:

First of all, you cannot write good English unless you appreciate English, and you cannot appreciate anything except by contrast with its other, and other languages are that other.

Second, a good writer is a master not only of English but of language itself, but you cannot rise to the knowledge of the universal structures and principles of language itself unless you begin with at least two particular languages (and preferably more than two) from which you can abstract those general principles.

Among non-English languages two stand out as especially useful: Greek and Latin; and this also has two reasons. The first reason is the historical fact that they are the roots of Western civilization, both because of what they are in themselves, the two most beautiful specimens of language ever invented, and because all the great books of premodern times except for the Old Testament were written in either Greek or Latin.

The second reason is that these two languages are so highly and rationally structured with such a good infection of inflection, that to learn them is to exercise the mind more lithely and acrobatically, to give the mind the power to play with words more fully and elaborately, than can be done in any modern language. I can tell, 9 times out of 10, whether a student has studied Greek or Latin simply by reading his English. Great stylists like Cardinal Newman and C. S. Lewis could never have tamed and mastered English and made it flow and prance and sing and juggle so effortlessly and obediently if they had not first mastered Latin and Greek, which were light heavyweight sparring partners to prepare them for lightweight boxing in English.

I wish I knew both Latin and Greek. Over the years I have learned beginner's Latin, alongside with my children, but have never put enough time into going beyond the very basics. I grew up bilingual and learned Polish at Saturday school, so have gained the benefits of learning a second language. But I'm sure that Peter Kreeft could easily spot from my writing that I've not learned Latin.

There have also been studies done that have shown that just a year's worth of instruction in Latin for children whose vocabulary is lacking gives them a massive leap forward in understanding of English words. This would have something to do with the fact that more than 50% of the English language is derived from Latin.

A person who learns Latin also has a major advantage in learning the Romance languages, those languages that developed from it after the Roman Empire disintegrated.

Somehow I don't think that compulsory Maori is really about the advantage a second language will give.  I suspect it's more about wanting to transmit a particular culture and way of life to all the inhabitants of this land instead.   I don't know about everyone else, but I'd prefer the culture of the people that built the cathedrals and sky-scrapers and space rockets and iPads, that most everyone in the world wants to emulate to be taught, rather than the culture of a people who were still cannibals before being discovered by the outside world.

However, I do not believe that my preferred languages should be compulsory, no matter how much I personally like them or can expound their benefits. For when it comes down to it, parents and schools need to decide what they feel is of most benefit for their particular children, and that will depend on the direction they want their children to take in life. It's not up to anyone else to dictate that direction to them, and that's why I am totally against compulsory languages.

Related links:
Compulsory te reo benefit all Aucklanders ~ TVNZ
What is a Classical Education? ~ Peter Kreeft, Memoria Press

Previous posts on this subject:
Willie Jackson calls for Maori to be compulsory in 2009
A language has to die in order to become immortal

4 comment(s):

LiberalLeftie said...

Latin is a dead language. It's not unique in improving the learning skills of kids, studies have shown that learning a second language like Maori does the same thing. Therefore your argument is void

Lucia Maria said...


You don't seem to have read my post on A language has to die in order to become immortal. Latin did die, is being kept alive by Rome and the Church and is now immortal. I think that, more than anything, accounts for the wholesale fleeing from it - it's just too Catholic.

Also, not all languages work the same way in improving English. The most beneficial languages are Latin, Greek and Hebrew, in that order.

Andrei said...

Latin didn't die - it evolved to become Italian, Spanish, French and Romanian among other tongues.

And as a liturgical language it is special, it can be a Sunday go to Church language reserved for the Worship of God, like Sunday best clothes kept for Church.

Church Slavonic is like that too

taoist said...

I think there are some good arguments against Latin and Greek, as well as Maori. There are definitely educational benefits to learning a second language though (even dead languages) - just from brain plasticity and learning perspectives. My position is that educational systems should have secondary language requirements (or at least recommendations) but allow the language choice to be flexible.

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