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Published 3 October 2019

Te reo loanwords in National Science Challenge discourse

In the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, researchers examine the use of Māori loanwords in Aotearoa as a tool for building national identity by measuring their presence in the National Science Challenge digital platforms.

New Zealand English is recognised for its heavy borrowing of words from Māori, a characteristic which is currently increasing. It is suggested that this adaption is used to self-differentiate New Zealanders from inhabitants of other English-speaking countries such as England or Australia.

Motivation behind the use of loanwords in Aotearoa is complex; there is still a big question of whether use is positive or perpetuating negative stereotypes. Nonetheless, it is strongly encouraged by many groups, including the Māori Language Commission.

Andreea Calude, Louise Stevenson, Hēmi Whaanga and Te Taka Keegan are particularly interested in the unexpectedly high use of Māori loanwords in science digital discourse – a genre not previously investigated. To study this discourse, they focus their research on the National Science Challenges.

The National Science Challenges emerged in Aotearoa after a government decision in 2012 sought to direct the country’s science funding according to scientific questions that would most address the unique challenges and issues that our country faces. 

The NSC rely on two digital platforms—their website and Twitter—to disseminate 11 challenges (from issues of land and water, to building better homes) and surrounding research to the public. These platforms are where Calude, Stevenson, Whaanga & Keegan draw their data sets.

To analyse use of loanwords, researchers adopted a corpus linguistic framework which allowed them to check the occurrence of particular words, and validate particular linguistic rules within a language territory.

They first looked at general use of loanwords from the National Science Challenge Corpus (NSCC), and then compared these to other genres of New Zealand English.

They discovered the word Māori itself was used most frequently in the NSCC, and also noted a strong use of the loan mātauranga (wisdom, knowledge). This may be attributed to the Vision Mātauranga—a government policy framework that aims to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge. The research suggested a relationship between this policy and a strong presence of Māori borrowings on the NSC web and Twitter feed.

The research also found variance in loans used between the website and Twitter, in particular how Twitter uses hybrid expressions (merging of Māori and English word) such as “Iwi organisation”. They suggested this could be due to a change in platform style as the hybrid was often attached to a hashtag (i.e. #iwiorganisation).

The research gathered 69 loanword types in total across the challenges. Loan words were found to have a stronger tie to the individual using them, than the topic of the challenge. For example, social culture loans, such as aroha (love), kai (food) and whānau (extended family) were the most prominent category, even in challenges that centred on the environment.

Calude, Stevenson, Whaanga and Keegan’s research exhibits the borrowing of loanwords as signalling a growing cultural awareness of Māori tradition and concepts.

Dr Andreea Calude is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Waikato. Louise Stevenson is Masters student and tutor at Victoria University of Wellington; previously working as a summer research scholar under Dr Calude, Dr Hēmi Whaanga and Dr Te Taka Keegan at the University of Waikato. Dr Hēmi Whaanga is an Associate Professor in Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao (The Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies) at the University of Waikato. Dr Te Taka Keegan is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Waikato.

The research article “The use of Māori words in National Science Challenge online discourse” published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand is available to read in full at Taylor & Francis online.