Maori is the original language of New Zealand, and one of the country’s three official languages. However, despite its official status and efforts at reviving it that date back to the 1980’s, the number of fluent speakers is estimated to be between 10,000 (Maori Language Commission, cited in Wikipedia) and 60,000 (Ethnologue). Approximately 100,000 people can understand Maori but have limited or no speaking capability.
Maori’s future does have a brighter outlook than that of many other indigenous languages, thanks to special immersion schools where children are educated in Maori. However, as technology becomes ever more central to daily life, people need to be able to use Maori on the computer if the language is to stay relevant. Fortunately, this week saw a couple of developments that should make that much easier.
First, a couple of businessmen from Rotorua just announced the release of the first Maori keyboard. The keyboard makes it a great deal simpler to type in Maori, as it includes keys for phonemes like “wh” and “ng” as well for the macrons used to differentiate long vowels from short vowels.
As Jay Bocock, the keyboard’s co-creator, explained to the Rotorua Daily Post, it is difficult to represent the sounds that make Maori unique on a traditional keyboard:
“While learning te reo Maori we wanted to use correct Maori names and forms of address but had trouble with the macrons. We discovered you can use a complex set of key strokes and special characters, which was just too hard.”
Second, Microsoft announced that it was launching a Maori language pack for Windows 7. Not only does the language pack work with Windows 7, translator Wareko Te Angina told New Zealand’s Tech Day website that the vocabulary has been improved as well, compared to previous Maori software:
“We found that certain Maori words used in relation to technology didn’t always capture the true spirit of the English word,” Te Angina says, “so we’ve developed and adapted words that are becoming increasingly adopted.”