Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The witless on the pitiless

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  • linger,

    There is one language usage issue upthread that does trouble me, and that's the misuse of the term "prescriptive" as if that were an excuse for being judgemental. (Which is not unrelated to the comment about bigotry above.)

    For a prescription to have any value, it has to come after an accurate diagnosis. You have an obligation to first ascertain that there actually is a problem, and then identify what it is, before trying to impose a solution.
    Jumping straight to "I think you're sick; so I say you need to do this" is simply irresponsible.

    In language issues, corpus evidence is a starting point for making a diagnosis: basically it tells the linguist what is normal, under what circumstances.

    In this case, the corpus tells me that many people writing in New Zealand English seem to consistently apply a principle to spelling "Maori" and "Pakeha" (observed to occur without macrons) that they don't apply to other words more consciously taken from te reo māori.
    Hence my starting assumption has to be that there may be good reasons for doing this. The corpus doesn't immediately tell me what those reasons are; but it does tell me to be very cautious about assuming there actually is a problem.

    What might be some possible reasons for choosing "Maori" and "Pakeha" as being, not merely possible, but acceptable standard forms?

    (i) at the time that these words were borrowed into English, te reo had no writing system, and so the spelling adopted had to be filtered through what was possible in English. Changing those words now would be like demanding that other historical borrowings such as "taboo" should be respelled. To some degree, that waka sailed with the Endeavour, and it went to places from which it cannot be easily called back. (But that is not by itself a reason not to discuss the issue.)

    (ii) the uses of these words to name and express identity were co-created among the indigenous people and the settlers; there was never a time when these particular uses belonged only to te reo. It is therefore possible to argue that both languages and both groups have some ownership of both terms: which is an argument for taking both variants (with and without macrons) as standard.
    Note that this is a prescription (it's not supported by the corpus), but it's not a judgemental one.

    (iii) given both possibilities, each person can make their own decision. For example, I may choose deliberately to use the English spellings, if I am forced to talk about Maori language or culture, to signal that I am not speaking as an insider or an expert. To label such a choice as being "stupid and wrong" is to do a severe disservice to the personal choice, to the language, and to the whole idea of prescription.

    My prescription is: tolerance.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1942 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to linger,

    +1 linger, when writing Maori/Pakeha(or many other Maori words I'm sure we can think of.)In a different dimension. we might be writing tchkat' bulla for takata pora - because that's the way Boultbee recorded it in the early 1820s.

    Horrible mutilations of Maori place names when speaking is a whole different kete of tuna-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to linger,

    "Maori" and "Pakeha"

    Thank you for capitlaising both. The widespread tendency to apply a lower case to Pakeha has been interesting.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Sacha,

    I find it -lower case- offensive: I was taught that, if you're writing about people, you use a capital. If you are writing in a descriptive way, you still generally use a capital - French cookery, Pakeha cooking, Greek yoghurt.

    Nothing at all should be read into the above!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1942 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to linger,

    Bugger- cant open that without a YouTube acct - which i dont have.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    Hmm. You might possibly count yourself lucky…
    (The link was to Rod Derrett’s 1960s song “Puha and Pakeha”.)
    Let’s see… yeah, it’s also on YouTube here with video from Heartland .) :

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1942 posts Report Reply

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