Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

Rites of renewal in New Zealand/Aotearoa linguistic landscape

Renata Casertano (Insubria University of Como, Italy)



In this paper I intend to explore New Zealand language issue. Apparently this little Antipodean country shares the fate of other fellow settler societies like Canada and Australia where indigenous languages were overwhelmed and pushed to the brink of death by the colonizer’s language. The process by which English overwhelmed Maori in New Zealand has been well documented showing the typical pattern of cultural and linguistic colonization by an imperial power.

Nevertheless, New Zealand early orientation toward a bicultural model, determined by the country's peculiar history of race-relations (Maori unlike Australian Aboriginal populations were never entrapped on reserves, and moreover accounted for the 13 per cent of the entire New Zealand population), has meant survival for the Maori language, and generally has contributed to a growing sense of Maori autonomy and self-determination. By biculturalism we do not mean two monolithic cultural systems whose values remain fixed and past-oriented living side by side, separate and distinct from one another, and in apparent harmonious relationship. The accent is put rather on an intercultural process of discursive exchange sparked off by the interaction of two or more cultural traditions, where Homi Bhabha’s notion of cultural difference and that of hybridity come to mind.

In the light of these observations I would like to propose an analysis of the innovative language utilized by Keri Hulme, a New Zealand writer of dual ancestry, both Maori and Pakeha (i.e. of European descent). Sensitive to the complexities inherent in the notion of cultural and linguistic identity, Keri Hulme seeks to tackle the issue of national identity by breaking down the binary structures informing colonial discourse through the strategic use of hybridity. In her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Bone People, the combination of the two languages, Maori and English, decenters the text so does the diverse cultural background that the two languages imply, creating almost another idiom. Similar examples can be found in contemporary Maori theatre and film-making where hybrid forms predominate, testifying to a people’s awareness that there is no true going back to a pre-colonial state of grace but rather a simultaneous looking backward to the past and forward to the future via a cycle of linguistic/cultural transformations.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-06