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Watch an interview with Dr. Darryn Joseph

View this interview by Nicola with Dr Darryn Joseph who is a Lecturer in te reo Māori (Māori language) and also an author of a bilingual picturebook.
Nicola: [Māori welcome] Nau mai haere mai, Darryn. [Welcome, Darryn]
Darryn: [Māori welcome] Tena koe. [Hello] Nicola: it is lovely to have you and welcome you to this interview, which we are recording for our Future Learn course. This week we are focusing on languages in picturebooks, looking particularly at bilingual books. Darryn, I thought I would start out by first acknowledging that you are a senior lecturer in Te Reo Māori, or the Māori language, at Massey University and I wondered if you could tell us a little but more about Te Reo Māori to start with.
Darryn: Sure [says greeting in Māori (translation in video)].
Thanks, Nicola, for inviting me today. I have been speaking and teaching Te Reo Māori for nearly 25 years. I did not speak Māori growing up. We got a little bit of tikanga (Māori customs, practices, and understandings). There is a big back-story to that but my father was a native speaker up until he was about 15 and then here was a family event where he stopped being a bush urchin in the Waikato-King Country (region in the central North island of New Zealand) and never looked back on Māori. Because of this, I had to go through a learning of Te Reo Māori.
Te Reo Māori is an Eastern Polynesian language so if you leant it and went holidaying in Hawai’i you could pick up fragments there. If you went over to Easter Island, you would pick up fragments there. And also if you went to the Society Islands, that is where that really cool whakatauki (Māori proverb) comes from.
The proverb: e kore a ngaro te kākano I ruia mai I Rangiātea (the seed will never be lost that was sown from the ancestral homeland). Rangiātea being in the Society Islands, which is Tahiti where Māori stopped off 750-or-so years ago and made their way from the Pacific to Aotearoa, New Zealand. So yes, it is a Polynesian language. It has a lot of vowels and not many consonants which makes it quite a beautiful rhythmic language.
Nicola: Who speaks Te Reo Māori in New Zealand?
Darryn: Hhmmm, yes, who does speak Te Reo Māori in New Zealand? Recently, because of COVID-19, we have been called the team of five million. If we look at the team of five million, I suppose about 17 percent of that team of five million is Māori. Of that team of 17 percent of Māori, there is about half of that population that speak Māori.
Nicola: Right.
Darryn: That does not take into account non-Māori speakers, which there are not many of but there are some, perhaps numbering in the thousands. Mainly, Māori speak the Māori language and unfortunately though because of colonization and the dominance of English there is only about 10 percent or so of that population of Māori who speak it to a really high proficiency as they are aged perhaps 65 and over. It is an aging population; especially the proficient speaking cohort and that brings some challenges to the future of Te Reo Māori.
Nicola: Te Reo Māori is only spoken in New Zealand?
Darryn: Yes, but about 20 percent of the Māori population is a diaspora living in Australia and so there are Māori speaking people in Australia. Actually, there are also Māori Australians who are born in Australia, some of whom speak Māori. So, not just in New Zealand but predominantly New Zealand is the stronghold of Te Reo Māori.
Nicola: Does it have official status in New Zealand?
Darryn: Yes.
So officially, there are three official languages: English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language. Although it has been said that English is the unspoken official language and Māori and Sign sort of tuck behind English. In saying that, over the last few decades there has been an explosion in the status of Te Reo Māori. Whether it as been through broadcasting, Māori TV has made a massive impact on normalizing Te Reo Māori in New Zealand because TV is so ubiquitous and it is beamed live, and possibly because Māori TV has good films, you are getting a really wide range of viewers, not just Māori, who are being exposed to a lot of phrases and Māori content.
Whether they know that content or not … well, they probably don’t… but the intros, the outros, a lot of the ads, a lot of the framing is all in Māori language. So it is a pretty exciting time to be a teacher of Te Reo Māori.
Nicola: That is a nice segue for us to start talking about your book Darryn. Are we seeing more bilingual Māori-English books in New Zealand that reflects the flourishing of the language, do you think?
Darryn: Yes, I think we are. There definitely could be more but I think as the Māori population increases and the appetite for Māori language books increases then yes we will see more. It has definitely been growing. We still do get a lot of reversioned books completely in Māori. So we get The Gruffalo and a lot of those ones reversioned into Māori but they are not quite bilingual books though as you say. But yes there are more and more bilingual books, but there could be more. I am talking about trade paperback books not just books for education.
Arguably in New Zealand the biggest producer of Māori language books, whether it is bilingual or completely in Māori, has been for the education sector.
Nicola: Yes, because he have a school system where you can receive your education in the medium of Te Reo Māori. Before we talk about your book in particular, I wondered if you could have a think about what roll bilingual books, or books featuring both languages, might have in supporting the revitalization of Te Reo Māori.
Darryn: I think first up, they are not as intimidating because people can get in.
Here is a little story: when I wrote this book, quite a few people I know, some colleagues, who are exposed to the Māori world but they do not speak Māori who want to make sure their kids are brought up in a Māori environment… I got these emails saying “thanks, Darryn, thanks for writing the story. I am really enjoying reading it to my tamariki (children), to my kids, in Māori language”. So possibly, it is a gentle in-road to bringing Māori into the home, which is really nice. Another little story that I got was from grandparents who bought the book to speak Māori to their grandchildren in Te Reo Māori. These are non-Māori grandparents who have Māori grandchildren who do speak Māori.
Sometimes they just read the English because they are a bit whakamā (shy) about reading the Māori or sometimes they give the Māori a go and then the kids fix up their pronunciation as they go along, which is pretty cute. I have had several of those stories as well about the impact of having a bilingual book in the home, whether it is from the grandparents or the parents, as an entry point into te ao Māori (the Māori world).
Nicola: Could you tell us about your book and how you came to write it?
Darryn: So, a very good friend, mentor, and second mum of mine passed away in 2016. We had this great relationship where she was an English teacher and I love English literature and… actually, my PhD is about figures of speech in Te Reo Māori. I had this very lofty ambition to investigate what makes the Māori language beautiful, so it was a very lofty goal. The community who I interviewed they said, “well (I should research) figures of speak”. So I had this “figures of speech” rattling around for about five years of investigating and looking at the grammar of personification and simile and metaphor in a whole range of figures of speech. Anyway, this person was like a sounding board.
She was an English teacher, a retired English teacher at the time, and we had these great long conversations about all these figures of speech in Māori. She passed away and about a year later I could not sleep and I was thinking about her and I just bolted up one day and I wrote, in one sitting, this poem which was actually an extension because I actually wrote the poem at her bedside when she was in hospital. Then, I got up and thought, “that’s pretty cool, I can’t just leave that poem sitting in my desk at home”. So I pulled it out and I reversioned it into a picturebook with a 32 page format.
I had not really done it before, but I sent it to a publisher and they said “yes we are in” and it kind of went from there. It took sitting a bedside vigil to write that as a poem and then one night to reformat it into a picturebook and then about two years to then go through the whole process. It was originally written completely in Māori, there was no English anywhere.
Nicola: Do you have a copy of the book there Darryn?
Darryn: Yes I have the book here.
Nicola: Can you just hold it up.
Darryn: Sure Nicola: It is called Whakarongo ki ō Tūpuna or Listen to Your Ancestors, in English. Could you tell us a little about the story inside?
Darryn: Sure. It is a bit of a weird book because it follows a teacher’s life and it is also full of the teacher’s voice so it is not really a story per se, although it does have a story. The story is basically about a teacher and her wisdom. How she interacts with her students and teaches them how to interact with nature and their environment, how to be brave, be strong, be humble, and all these sorts of attributes that are sort of universal not just Māori. She then goes through her life journey as a teacher- very teacher speak- but then, this is probably the kicker of the story, she gets older and as the older population do sometimes, she gets dementia.
She starts to forget a little bit and gets a bit scared so one of her pupils who is also her grandchild helps her thought that process in the home and all the rest of it. They even have a funeral for her and then the last shot is her on the beach using the lessons that she has from her teacher, her mentor, her kuia (female elder) telling her kids in the same way that she was taught, mot to freak out, just to relax And go on our ancestors, the ocean, the foreshore So yeah, that is the story in a nutshell. I have had some students who have read it and go “oh you didn’t tell me she died, Darryn.
You didn’t tell me!” but, yeah, she does die.
Nicola: That is a really powerful message in there.
Darryn: Yeah there is. I suppose the main thing is that there is quite an aging population with those people who are the keepers of the knowledge and they are passing away. It is quite important to take a moment and reflect on the gifts that they have given us. In Māori, we call it a taonga tuku iho, an intergenerational gift, that they have given us and left behind.
Nicola: You said that you wrote it in Te Reo Māori to start with. How did it become bilingual?
Darryn: That was the publisher’s idea. My idea was a little bit more staunch. I have written 20-plus books or so and all of them have been in the Māori language, so my idea was “no, it is going to be in Māori” but to the publishers credit they kind of talked me around a little bit and said because of economies of scale, they could not publish a book just in Māori at this stage.
I really hope that changes in the future but for now it had to be a bilingual book and I had to go back and translate it, which took much longer to find the correct concepts in English that did not sound too hokey in English as they do in Te Reo Māori. We got there in the end and I think it was actually an excellent idea. It was a really great idea. I would not say that it was actually a compromise in the end.
I would say that it has made it a better book that it is in two languages, only because of all the feedback and it has really acted like a bicultural bridge for families who have Māori and non-Māori in them to be able to access that content and that knowledge.
Nicola: Darryn, I notice that in the text on the page and in the layout of the book that the Māori language always comes first on each page and English comes second. I wondered if you could talk about how those decisions were made and if you think it is important- the order of the language and the size. I think they are exactly the same size and font but Māori comes first. Could you talk a little about that from your perspective as the author?
Darryn: So as I said, I think I would have preferred to have it all in Māori and so there was probably no way on earth that English would come first before Māori as an indigenous language. For me, that was a no-brainer and the publisher definitely picked up on that. I know some books have the English first then the Māori but to me that seem a little bit disingenuous when the title of the book is Whakarongo ki ō Tūpuna Listen to Your Ancestors first foremost rather than Listen to Your Ancestors Whakarongo ki ō Tūpuna. It was definitely conceived in Māori first and the bilingual publication was definitely English language second. I think that honours that process.
I just want to share a little story with you. So in the 80s when there was a revival of Te Reo Māori from the Kohanga Reo movement (Māori medium preschool movement) and then in 1985 Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori medium schools) from preschool to primary, resources were really really scarce. I still have resources that I have actually bought in second-hand shops that the Māori books were just English books with little hand written pieces of paper in Māori and stuck on the books. Māori volunteers did that in the 80s because there were no resources.
We have come a really long way to say “yes, we’re not going to stick with just pieces of paper patched on kids’ books- that is not quite good enough- let’s now do our own.” I think to actually then have English at the front really big and then have Māori at the bottom small is just a little bit of a kick in the teeth when it comes to Māori educationalists. I am sure that actually some die-hards probably wouldn’t have this book because of the English content in it, possibly in an immersion school, so that is a bit of a trade-off because it is not completely in Māori, it may not be there.
But again, that is a little bit of a trade-off and that is something I can live with I think.
Nicola: How I see it, with bilingual books is that how they are laid out and presented within a book does represent the status of the language. Whether or not it is a true representation of the status of the language or not, it actually sends a message to the reader. If you are wanting a language which is an endangered language to be revitalized, putting it first gives it the energy required to be revitalized. What would you say to that?
Darryn: I completely agree. I could not argue with that at all. I think it kind of comes down to almost something like micro-aggressions in life. When little tiny things for example if you go into a city and there is only the English place name there but you know that there is a Māori place name as well. You encounter this a lot. So when you talk about the status of the language, well actually it is almost regional. If you go to Tairāwhiti (East Coast of the North Island), which has a huge Māori population, a lot of their signage when you go straight into the city it says “Welcome to Wairoa” and “Nau mai ki te Wairoa” emblazoned in equal signage.
I think that says a lot about the status of Te Reo Māori, if everything was like that and it was not just big English and a tiny bit of Māori. Actually, that still happens where the website designers get that wrong. Like even with the City Councils, where they have English (in large font) and then “click here for Te Reo Māori” and it is this little tiny icon down on the right for Te Reo Māori. Unfortunately, that design team needs a little bit of a chat about what equality looks like and especially the status on Te Reo Māori in 2020.
Nicola: I agree. And in children’s books children are learning language attitudes as they read the books so if all the Māori is always smaller and second, children are leaning something though that. Whereas in your book, Māori is always first and children are leaning something from that too. When you have a language that is really dominant, like English, it really does not need a lot of support. But Māori, we are trying to revitalize and its increase, so I think there is really sound support for it coming first in all bilingual books. But that is just my opinion.
Darryn: And I am sure there is also some design issues that you also have work though because if you look at a picture book, I mean it is like any design ideas, if you have text on both sides, it does cover up the image. So when you are designing the book, you do need to think a little bit more about text placement and image design and illustration before you go into finishing the book.
Nicola: Well, kia ora (thank you), Darryn. Those are all my questions for today. Thanks so much for your book. I think it is absolutely beautiful and inspiring, not only from a language status perspective but also in terms of the kaupapa (theme) of the book. I really love it. I just love the fact that you are getting all that feedback from people about how it is bringing Te Reo Māori into homes where it might not be otherwise. I think that is really cool.
Darryn: Yeah, thank you.
Nicola: I want to thank you very much for your time and for this recording and we hope that all those people out there around the world are enjoying listening to your unique perspective.
Darryn: Go bilingual books! Kia ora! [Thank you!]

Dr Darryn Joseph is a Lecturer in te reo Māori (Māori language) and he is also an author of a bilingual picturebook: Whakarongo ki ō tūpuna. Listen to your ancestors.

In this interview, Darryn tells us a little about Te Reo Māori (the Māori language), and its status in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We discuss the emergence of books being translated from English to Māori, and then the genesis of his own bilingual picturebook Whakarongo ki ō tūpuna/Listen to your ancestors which was inspired by his former teacher. At the heart of his picturebook is the notion of knowledge being passed down between generations. His picturebook was originally written In Māori, and his publisher suggested it become bilingual with English text as well. We discuss the layout of text in the picturebook which gives Māori text first followed by English on each page. Darryn relates feedback from readers who have appreciated the inclusion of two languages in his picturebook.

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