Annotated Working Bibliography on Māori Language Revitalization

(9th version, 27 April 2011)


This bibliography lists the key literature on Māori Language revitalization. There isn't a single definitive account. Seventeen annotated references are provided. This version of the bibliography lists material by year of publication, most recent first. Familiarity with the general literature on endangered languages and bilingual/immersion education is worthwhile (this is often an integral part of language revitalization efforts).

(1)  Te Reo Mauriora Te Paepae Motuhake's review of the Māori language sector and the Māori language strategy, April 2011.

Commissioned by Dr Pita Sharples (Minister of Māori affairs) and led by Emeritus Professor Sir Tamati Reedy and a high powered team of well known Māori language activists, this report is an interesting document.

As with the draft Wai 262 report (October 2010)(2)Te Paepae Motuhake is clearly not convinced that Te Taura Whiri (Māori Language Commission) is functioning as it should. The report suggests a Māori language minister and separate board that reports to that minister. It also recommends runanga-a-iwi (tribal authorities) to assist with increasing the amount of Māori language spoken at home. I seem to remember a previous Taura Whiri CEO attempting to set regional language centres which, to my knowledge never really succeeded.

The review is right to emphasize that Māori language needs to be spoken more in Māori homes. Little detail is provided on how this is be effected and it seems to ignore the practicality that the majority of Māori aren't really that interested in investing the time required to learn the language to a high degree of proficiency needed to sustain household interactions in Māori.

I am not convinced that many iwi authorities are currently in a position to assist with increasing the amount of Māori spoken in homes. Clearly some are and active in this area (e.g. Ngati Raukawa) , others lack the organisation or resources, others again, e.g., Waikato-Tainui certainly have the resources but currently don't seem to see supporting Māori language in homes as being very important. Too often it is forgotten that the majority of Māori no longer live in their traditional iwi regions, and too many urbanized Māori have very little meaningful contact with iwi organisations.

The group least visible in this report is the rangatahi (young people), especially graduates of Māori-medium programmes who are now raising their own children. It is this group that will determine the future of the language and certainly needs support.

(2)  Waitangi Tribunal. (2010) Wai 262 Tribunal chapter on te reo Māori in pre-publication format.

An interesting very long chapter that makes far reaching recommendations on what needs to be done to save the Māori language from "imminent death" (This is not really true, Māori language is not about to die). It rightly highlights trends of decreasing in enrolements in kohanga reo and Māori-medium education programmes. There are few explanations offered of why this has happened. Much of the blame is directed towards government policy and its lack of implementation. As the report notes the relationship between Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Māori Development) and the Māori Language Commission is problematic and roles are not clearly defined. Many of the Te Puni Kokiri people involved in Māori language policy formation have either moved on to other positions or no longer work for Te Puni Kokiri. Much of the language policy work itself is of questionable value. The Māori Language Commission has changes in key personnel in recent years and is no longer the same organisation since the departure of highly influential former commissioner, Timoti Karetu. In the current economic climate the language commission is unlikely to receive a boost in funding or major changes in its current roles. I am not sure that major changes to the Māori Language Commission are what is really needed.

Remember this has been released in pre-publication format. It has certainly got the attention of New Zealand's media. Get your copy here.

(3) Bauer, W. (2008). Is the health of te reo Māori improving? Te Reo, 51, 33-73.

This journal article critiques (3) below and the 2001 and 2006 National censuses. It suggests the methodology employed are problematic and that their is need to interpret their results with care. In other words they are too optimistic in their conclusions and in reality Māori is much worse off than suggested. The article advocates a rethinking in terms of current Māori language strategies and resource allocation. This is a very important journal article. Unfortunately Te Reo, the Journal of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand is not available online. The article will need be obtained via a library.

(4) Research New Zealand/Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Māori Development).(2007). The Health of the Māori language in 2006.

This is Te Puni Kokiri's latest (commissioned) research on Māori language use. Deliberately timed to allow comparisons with the survey they commissioned in 2001. This document is merely a survey report and contains very little analysis or interpretation. As with the 2001 survey no iwi (tribal) affiliations were collected. This is extremely disappointing, although to obtain representative iwi data would have inflated the costs of the project. Still worth downloading and reading. Most Te Puni Kokiri publications can be downloaded in PDF format from their web site.

(5) Harlow, R. (2007). Māori: A linguistic introduction.

Most recent book by Ray Harlow. Focuses on the description of Māori and changes happening as a result of influence of English, includes discussions on the status of Māori as an endangered language. Unfortunately this book is expensive !

(6) Bell, S., Harlow, R., & Starks, D. (Eds.). (2005). Languages of New Zealand.

An excellent edited volume containing chapters on Māori vocabulary by Peter Keegan, Māori broadcasting by Mike Hollings, attitudes to Māori language by Mary Boyce, and Māori lost and regained by Bernard Spolsky. In addition it provides others chapters which give good overviews of the language situation in NZ.

(7) Issue 172 (2005) International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

Two papers in this journal issue are important. Professor Margaret Mutu describes her own community's language revitalization efforts and how they relate to maintaining ethnic identity. Professor Ray Harlow presents his own views attitudes towards Māori. He makes many valid points. There are also papers by Janet Holmes on Māori English in New Zealand and Steven Chrisp discusses data from a language attitudes survey.

(8) Harlow, R. (2003). Issues in Māori language planning and revitalisation. He Puna Korero: Journal of Māori and Pacific Development, 4(1), 32-43.

Ray Harlow's views on key issues facing Māori language. Makes insightful comments on language standardization, the ad-hoc nature of Māori planning, and the role of relevant government agencies and their attempts to formulate effective policy. Harlow's Māori reference grammar (2001) is excellent.

(9) Reassessing Māori regeneration Language in Society 32 (4), 553-578.

A key paper by world renown academic Bernard Spolsky who has made important contributions to bilingual education, language testing, language policy, sociolinguistics as well as language revitalization. The paper argues that Māori language revitalization should not be understood as language loss followed by revitalization activities, rather it is the result of a long process of negotiation between the indigenous Māori and European settlers. Spolsky was domiciled in New Zealand for many years and has kept in touch with developments. Well known in New Zealand for his 1987 Report on Māori Bilingual Education which highlighted the need for increased and diversified teacher training to supply the anticipated growth in programmes. The provision of good teachers for Māori-medium programmes is still a major problem. Finally, Spolsky's recent (2004) book on language policy is relevant and well worth reading.

(10) Fishman, J. (Ed.) (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: A 21st century perspective.

This edited volume contains updates on languages mentioned in 13 Fishman (1991) and discusses others previously not covered. Local or USA based experts provide updates on a selection of languages with Fishman providing an overview and revisiting the framework proposed in the original volume. The chapter on Māori was written by Richard and Nena Benton who know the New Zealand situation intimately and have made an enormous contribution to Māori language and education through research, writings and much behind the scenes activity. The Bentons conclude that under Fishman's framework Māori has only made modest gains in the last decade. Clearly there is much than could be said about Māori in the last ten years (and no doubt other languages) than a chapter space allows. Fortunately, the Bentons provide details in other publications (see entries 9 and 11). My impression is that a different picture emerges for some of the larger (in terms of numbers of speakers) endangered 'European' languages such as Basque, Catalan, and Canadian French (Hebrew, as the relevant chapter argues, is a rather unique case). These languages may fit Fishman's framework better than the others and their chances of survival are much greater. Welsh is not mentioned in either volume, however, under a case study approach not every language of interest can be included. Fishman's commentary on the case studies and reversing language shift provides further clarification and a re-stating of positions given in the first volume. Again, I find some of Fishman's writing dense and not easy to understand. Perhaps the book needs to be read a number of times or may be more readily understood by those familiar with the associated literature. In summary, another important book which should be studied in conjunction with the previous volume. Contains insights and challenges for both scholars and activists battling daily to revive or maintain their own languages. My major gripe, apart from sections I consider to be dense, with both Fishman volumes is that despite being gems they are lumbered with some of the most boring covers ever.

(11) King, J. (2001). Te Kohanga Reo: Māori language revitalization. in L. Hinton and K. Hale. (eds.) The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego: Academic Press, pages 119-128.

This chapter is probably the most recent update (of substance) on kohanga reo (Māori language nest or centre for pre-school children). It appears in an excellent volume that provides details on progress of language revitalization efforts particularly amongst Native Americans/indigenous groups in North America/Hawai'i. The efforts to revitalize Hawai'ian are especially relevant. Māori and Hawaiian(s) share very similar histories, both linguistically and in terms of their not always pleasant experiences of colonization.The kohanga reo model is well known and often cited in the indigenous language revitalization literature. There is a paucity of up to date literature on kohanga reo.

(12) Reedy, T. (2000). Te Reo Māori: The past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics 39(1), 157-169.

An important overview (although rather brief) with observations on changes taking place by a well-respected Māori academic. Tamati Reedy is a native speaker of Māori who has had a long involvement in Māori language revitalization activities. There is not a lot of good literature on this topic by Māori authors.

(13) Benton, N. B. E. and R. A. Benton (1999). Revitalizing the Māori language, Unpublished Consultants Report to the Māori Development Education Commission.

An eclectic document (128 pages, almost exclusively text) that ranges over many issues concerning Māori language and Māori language revitalization. Written as a report to a now defunct commission it assumes its audience is already highly familiar with the New Zealand scene. The Bentons suggest future directions for Māori language revitalization efforts which on occasions conflict with current thinking and practices (especially the role of Māori in bilingual/immersion education). Some may not agree with the authors, however this report is clearly very important and needs to be read by all seriously interested in this topic. To my knowledge this report can only be obtained via a request under the Official Information Act from Te Puni Kokiri.

(14) Grin, F. and Vaillancourt, F. (1998).  Language Revitalisation Policy: An Analytical Survey. Theoretical Framework, Policy Experience and Application to Te Reo Māori. Wellington, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

This report (238 pages long) was commissioned New Zealand's Treasury (a government department) in attempt to gain an economist's perspective on language revitalization. Grin and Vaillancourt are economists who have attempted elsewhere to quantify and explain language revitalization by using economic frameworks and modeling. Their work is well known in some circles, but not by most New Zealanders. The report is divided into three sections, an analytical framework, policy experience, and implications for Māori. Of particular interest is the commentary on effective language policies, from economic perspectives. Examples are mostly from language minorities which seem to be increasing (in terms of numbers of speakers), i.e., Welsh and Basque. The report finishes by suggesting implications of policies aimed at the revitalization of Māori. It concludes that Māori has the potential for revitalization, but much (policy) work is required and that there is a need for affective and regular measures of policy implementation. Some of policy approaches suggested by the authors, in particular a reliance on Māori-medium education to produce large numbers of Māori speakers will be regarded as controversial by many. In my opinion the report's conclusions need to be treated with caution given that much more detailed data is now available. As Fishman's re-visitation has shown, there is much that can be gained by re-examining case studies in the light of new data and further input from other expertise.

(15) Benton, R. A. (1991).The Māori language: Dying or reviving?

This paper (44 pages) provides an overview of the now famous NZCER (New Zealand Council for Educational Research) Sociolinguistic Survey of Māori Language Use undertaken in the 1970s. It is important because it was first research evidence confirming that the Māori language was in a perilous state (i.e. in rapid decline) and would soon disappear unless drastic measures were urgently undertaken. The survey focused on rural Māori communities and demonstrated that there were only several isolated places in the North Island where Māori was still being used by a significant number of the local Māori community. Much has changed since the 1970s and the paper is largely of historic value. Should still be read. This paper appeared in 1991 and was reprinted by NZCER in 1997.

(16) Fishman. J. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages.

An important academic book by perhaps the leading scholar on language revitalization. Fishman proposes a model whereby languages are ranked on scale (i.e stages) ranging from stage eight (language severely endangered, e.g. few remaining elderly speakers) to stage one (language well supported in education, government, media, communities etc. etc.) The book details 10 languages as case studies of endangered languages at various stages according to the model (in many cases there is overlap between the stages). It includes a chapter on Māori. The account of Māori revitalization is as accurate as can be expected given the literature available at that time. There were many activities not mentioned in the text, e.g. groups and individuals based at educational institutions and settings (especially universities), others were based on Māori organizations. Much has changed since then and in retrospect many in New Zealand probably now have a better understanding of what actually happened and why. This book was widely read in New Zealand. My impression is that some have misinterpreted the book, others considering it to be the final word or the only worthy explanation of language revitalization. Models are almost always simplifications of reality and many are extensively revised or are sometimes discarded. Fishman's model has its critics and there are alternative models and viewpoints by other authors (see Baker, 2001:81-83; Crystal, 2000; Spolsky, 2004, chapter 12). In summary, an important book which has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of language revitalization. Fishman's writing is sometimes dense and his ideas or messages are not always clear. A follow up volume has been produced (see entry 7) i.e. Fishman (2001).

(17) Waitangi Tribunal (1989). Te reo Māori report: Wai 11 (2nd Ed). Wellington: GP Publications.

This report (51 pages) details the 1986 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal to have Māori recognized as a taonga 'treasure' and therefore guaranteed government protection under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi signed between Māori and the (British) Crown. The Tribunal found in support of the claimants and its subsequent recommendations to the government of the day lead directly to the establishment of the Māori Language Commission and a commitment from the government to support Māori language revitalization initiatives. Clearly a major milestone and turning point in the history of Māori language revitalization.


1 The term 'revitalize' is sometimes written as 'revitalise'. The -ize form may be more common.

2 'revitalize' synonyms include 'regeneration', 'restoration', 'reversing language shift', 'language revival', or even 'language revernacularisation'.

3 The term Māori can refer to either the people or language of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand.

4 Some authors (mainly academics) use Aotearoa/New Zealand or New Zealand/Aotearoa, or just Aotearoa when referring to the country commonly known in the English speaking world as New Zealand.


Baker, C. (2006). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (4th Edition). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Bauer, W. (2008). Is the health of te reo Māori improving? Te Reo, 51, 33-73.

Bell, S., Harlow, R., & Starks, D. (Eds.). (2005). Languages of New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington Press.

Benton, R. A. (1991). The Māori language: Dying or reviving? Honolulu: East West Center. (Reprinted by New Zealand Council for Educational Research in 1997).

Benton, N. B. E., & Benton, R. A. (1999). Revitalizing the Māori language, Unpublished Consultants Report to the Māori Development Education Commission, New Zealand.

Chrisp, S. (2005). Māori intergenerational language transmission. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 149-181.

Crystal, D. (2002). Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Fishman, J. A. (Ed.) (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: A 21st century perspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Grin, F., & Vaillancourt, F. (1998). Language Revitalisation Policy: An Analytical Survey.Theoretical Framework, Policy Experience and Application to Te Reo Māori. Report to the Treasury, Wellington, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

Harlow, R. (2003). Issues in Māori language planning and revitalisation. He Puna Korero: Journal of Māori and Pacific Development, 4(1), 32-43.

Harlow, R. (2005). Covert attitudes to Māori. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 133-147.

Harlow, R. (2007). Māori: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holmes, J. (2005). Using Māori English in New Zealand. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 91-115.

King, J. (2001). Te Kohanga Reo: Māori language revitalization. in L. Hinton & K. Hale. (Eds), The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego:Academic Press. pp. 119-128.

Mutu, M. (2005). In search of the missing Māori links - maintaining both ethnic identity and linguistic integrity in the revitalization of the Māori language. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 117-132.

Reedy, T. (2000). Te Reo Māori: The past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics 39(1), 157-169.

Research New Zealand. (2007). 2006 Survey of the health of the Māori language: Final report. Wellington, NZ: Te Puni Kokiri/Ministry of Māori Development.

Spolsky, B. (1987). Report on Māori - English bilingual education. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, New Zealand.

Spolsky, B. (2003) Reassessing Māori regeneration. Language in Society 32(4), 553-578.

Spolsky, B. (2004) Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Māori Development). (2002). The Health of the Māori language in 2001. Wellington, New Zealand, Māori Language Monitoring Team, Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Māori Development).

Waitangi Tribunal. (1989). Te reo Māori report: Wai 11. (2nd Ed) Wellington, New Zealand: GP Publications.

Last modified: 27 April 2011.