SpongeBob Tarau Porowhaa says mean things about you in another language

It’s Maori Language Week, or Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori.  Please excuse my lack of macrons, I do not wish to tempt fate and/or the fragility of WordPress.

First things first: serious, serious kudos to Nickelodeon. (Warning: auto-play)

Next:  As soon as I saw Kelvin Davis had posted on Red Alert, in Maori, without providing a translation, I knew whinging trolls could not be far off.  Call it instinct, call it seeing the same damn thing happen every time a university magazine publishes a Maori Language Week issue:

gee, a post that less than 1% of NZ can understand.

Thanks for doing the racist side proud, mynameispete.  I’m sure you and your ilk are totally ready with a bag full of “but it’s just not efficient communication” and “but all Maori speakers are English speakers already anyway” and “well if you REALLY wanted open and inclusive debate you’d speak in a language EVERYONE understands”.  And when this issue next comes up in a workplace with a large group of recent immigrants more comfortable chatting in their first language it’ll be “oh but Health and Safety issues” “oh but employers Need To Know if their workers are discussing the weekend sharing pie recipes spreading dissent and unionising“.

And it’s bullshit.

You don’t like people speaking in a language you don’t understand because you think they’re talking about you.

If you’re mynameispete, of course, you’re probably correct given some of the comments on Kelvin Davis’ post specifically address you by name.  But before that?  When you [editorial “you”, being “all douchebags who whinge about What About The Whiteys to derail minority groups’ discussions”] leap in all “ZOMG like NO ONE understand this”?

What the hell is it to you?  Unless you’re obsessed with uncovering some Insidious Plan To Rob Mainstream New Zealand Of Their Privilege, unless you’re working under the assumption that people must only want to speak in a “foreign” language in order to hide their discussions from you, unless you’re so self-centred you honestly think any conversation you happen to pass by must be about you … why so important?

Nanaia Mahuta’s post has not attracted the same vitriol, but maybe the derailers were feeling generous and contained themselves to one post.  Besides, she mentioned SpongeBob, and maybe the presence of a single (kinda)English word reassured them that their fears were not warranted.

[Side note: I am also fucking stoked to see Raymond Huo getting in on the blogging thing and posting, also without translation, in what I assume to be Chinese (please correct me if I’m wrong, non-Germanic languages are not my thing). ]

But back to Maori Language Week.  I also knew, as a few commenters told Douchebag #1 where to stick his crap, that it could not be long before my next-least-favourite-argument came up.  Cheers, bikerkiwi:

I strongly disagree that it being taught more in schools – by all means have it as an elective etc, but in the real world its pretty much useless for the majority of the population

And this is what pisses me off the most, every time Maori language gets another push.  And there’s two sides to why this is total bullshit.

1.  A shitload of what you learn in school could be called “no use”.

I am an English postgraduate interested in communications and publishing. What use was Bursary Mathematics with Calculus?  What use was memorizing vase paintings in Classics, or developing good pipetting technique in Chem?  When am I ever going to need to know the German for I get up at six o’clock every morning?

The “no use” argument is irrelevant because there’s nothing particular about te reo that makes it any less use than any other subject I, or you, or thousands of Kiwi kids never “needed” again once they left school.

Bikerkiwi goes on to say that kids are having “enough trouble” with “English and maths” which are apparently “subjects that [they] need for jobs”.

I’m going to be generous and assume here that bikerkiwi is confusing the study of English literature with speaking English, and hasn’t worked in retail – because any job requiring less-than-tertiary math skills is probably going to involve a cash register or a calculator anyway, and binomial theorem ain’t going to be high on an employer’s list of essential competencies.

2.  Learning a language, no matter what it is, is never just about ordering a loaf of bread.

I had quite a few friends who went to Auckland Grammar School.  On AGS’ website it states that in 2009, there will be approximately 500 students studying Latin in Years 9-13.  Now, there’s definitely an argument to be made that AGS is one of those schools who cling to tradition for the sake of tradition, but we’re not talking hobby courses here – AGS is an immensely well-respected school, and clearly still sees value in teaching a language of even less “use” than te reo.

Learning a second language* does a lot more than teach you how to ask the local populace Wie komme ich am besten zum Bahnhof.**  Languages show you how different cultures perceive and frame the world (people from around the Arctic Circle probably see snow very very differently to those on the shores of the Mediterranean).  Second languages make the rules of your mother tongue (especially if it’s that bastard child, English) easier to understand.  Second language exams test your ability to rephrase your ideas when your vocabulary is limited.

And the same argument can be made for any “no use” subject.  The first half of my first 5th form History class was spent explaining (to the students with rather less politically-active relatives than me) the left-wing/right-wing spectrum (because it really helps to have a handle on that before launching into the origins of World War 2).  Did my schoolmates end up all becoming historians or political scientists? No.  But that knowledge is almost certainly still of use to them.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be at nicknz.co.nz.  Sponge Boooooooooooooooooooob, Tarau PoroWHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

*Or third, or fourth.


  1. Pingback: Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Normalising diversity
  2. Kelvin Davis

    I’ve given up trying to justify why Maori is of use, so I just use it and if people have a problem with that, then it’s their problem.

    Being able to speak Maori may not help a person gain employment in every industry going, (which is often the argument, “Maori won’t help you get a job) but it does help in –
    1. journalism
    2. teaching
    3. tourism
    4. television
    5. health (dealing with Maori patients)
    6. commerce (dealing with Maori customers)
    7. law
    8. politics
    9. policing
    10. corrections (sadly)
    11. Conservation (iwi liaison and consultation)
    12. victim support
    13. Fisheries
    14. having a conversation with my kids, mates, cousins, colleagues, elders, and like today – strangers on a plane.
    15. breaking down bigotry

    Who else can come up with some uses for Te Reo Maori?

    • QoT

      Can I get back to you once I stop screaming “OH MY GOD KELVIN DAVIS IS COMMENTING ON MY BLOG” at random passersby?