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While English is the predominant language spoken in New Zealand, there are two actual official languages in New Zealand. Maori became an official language in 1987 while in April 2006, New Zealand became the first country to declare sign language as an official language, alongside Maori.
New Zealand Sign Language, or NZSL, is the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand.
Maori is only used in New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. Despite its official status, the language continues to struggle against being lost.
In the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, Queen Victoria promised the Maori that their language would be protected.
However, Maori language was discouraged in schools, either formally or informally, and some elders can remember being punished for speaking the language. The Maori language was in danger of dying out, as by the 1920's only a few schools taught Maori grammar and many parents encouraged their children to learn English. 'Korero Pakeha' (Speak English) was seen as essential as it was needed for the workplace and other activities.
It is only recently that the Maori language has gathered widespread support. In the present, the Maori language is commonly used in the media and at school.
A recent survey by the New Zealand government shows about 130,000 people speak some Maori.
A visit to New Zealand will introduce you to many Maori place names, such as Onehunga, Whangamomona, Kahikatea and Nguru. There are also many Maori cultural attractions and places that you can visit to meet the Maori people, learn of their heritage and traditions and try their food.
The Maori language has a logical structure, with very consistent rules of pronunciation. It consists of five vowel sounds: a e i o u ('a' as in 'car', 'e' as in 'egg', 'i' like the 'ee' in 'tee', 'u' like an 'o' in 'to'). There are eight consonants in Maori similar to those in English - 'h', 'k', 'm', 'n', 'p', 'r', 't', and 'w'. There are also two different consonants - 'wh' and 'ng'. Many Maori pronounce the 'wh' sound similar to our 'f'. The 'ng' is similar to our own 'ng' sound in a word like 'sing', except that in Maori, words can start with 'ng'.
View more information about the Maori culture.
View more key facts and information about New Zealand.