There was a time when your Point of Order editorial team’s vocabularies enabled them to comprehend most of the press statements that came their way.
It has become fashionable in government circles to inject te reo into English-language press statements, thereby creating a curious Kiwi argot. The expectation, presumably, is that recipients are as well versed in te reo as the writers of these statements, or that they will be embarrassed into studying the language rather than confess to not knowing.
At the very least, a recipient who stumbles on an unfamiliar word will try to find out what it means.
Such a statement crossed our desk the other day, headed The revolution that failed to eventuate.
It came from Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft and said:
Almost 30 years ago New Zealand had the opportunity to revolutionise how we whakamana Māori children and young people affected by the Care and Protection and Youth Justice systems. It came with the 1989 Children Young Person’s and their Families Act, legislation that, at least in its approach to indigenous children, could be described as a statutory prescription for revolution.
Further down, Becroft refers to elements within the Act that will be critical to its success in practice.
In keeping with this maturing understanding, the new Act focuses on key principles and concepts reflective of a Te Aō Māori world view. These principles are universalised and made applicable to all children within the Act’s scope. These so-called ‘pou’ or central ridge poles (defined in the Act) are:
* mana tamaiti
There was some learning to be done, here at Point of Order, if we were to get to grips with Becroft’s message.
Should we turn to the Google language translator?
Nah. Let’s ask Becroft for an English-language version of the opening sentence, and confess to our bi-cultural shortcomings in not knowing what happens when we whakamana children and young people.
Our email confessed to our stumbling, too, on the reference to the Three Pou, although we had a rough idea of “whakapapa”.
In a one-sentence response from Becroft’s office, we were advised:
Whakamana mead [sic] “to enable, to empower”.
For the rest, we have been left to find out for ourselves what he was saying.
But we are reluctant to turn to the Google translator because of a previous experience.
On that occasion, our curiosity had been aroused by a Porirua City Council press statement which said:
Porirua’s city centre has a new name – Te Manawa – gifted by Ngāti Toa Rangatira to reflect its transformation.
Te Manawa means a central place where many people gather, and their hearts beat as one, says Mayor Mike Tana.
“The name reflects our vision of a city centre that is the vibrant heart of our community, now and for future generations,” he said.
“The gifting of Te Manawa is also a symbol of the strong, enduring partnership between Ngāti Toa and Porirua City.”
This was astonishing; Just two te reo words were saying as much as we needed 13 words to say.
So we went to Google and found a translator who said Te Manawa means “heart‘ or “heartbeat”.
Then we asked the mayor’s office which was correct – the Google translation or the mayor’s version of the meaning of Te Manawa.
A mayoral staffer told us yes, Te Manawa literally means “the heart” or “heartbeat“.
However, because the Māori language is often poetic and symbolic, words can carry a more expressive meaning, and this is so with Te Manawa which has a wider subtext when translated. The quote from the Mayor was taken from words we are using to describe Te Manawa in a lyrical not literal sense.
Oh dear. This suggests we risk getting it wrong, if we are given and use a literal translation instead of a lyrical one.
That’s why we emailed Becroft’s office.
We are disappointed his staffer put us right with just one of several te reo words injected into the recent press statement.
We are also tempted to suggest that Becroft’s statements henceforth be issued in both languages – but we suspect he might be complying with a government edict to honour the Treaty partnership by injecting plenty of te reo into English-language statements, a policy to be gradually pursued until half the words are English and half are te reo.