A Question Regarding Languages in New Zealand

La machine de questions a présenté une autre question:

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How many languages does one person speak on average in New Zealand?

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This is a really cool question. It’s good to be questioned on things outside of my regular geek canon. The quick answer is one.

Eighty percent of New Zealanders speak English and only English. This is largely because we don’t border on any other foreign language countries, and there is very little reason for New Zealanders to know another language to undertake trade or enjoy entertainment.

Maori and New Zealand Sign Language are also official languages of New Zealand, but the numbers fluent in those languages are low (4% for Maori and only 25,000-ish people for NZSL).

If you don’t require fluency in a language to be a criteria, I’d suggest that most (if not all) New Zealanders regularly speak at least some Maori. All kids are taught the basics in Maori, such as counting, colours, and Maori names for animals and plants. It’s not at all uncommon to drop Maori phrases into everyday conversation, and most Kiwis would know what you mean when you say “Kia ora bro, everything is ka pai, let’s go get some kai!”

Living in Auckland also makes things fairly interesting. The main language is still English, but due to the large immigrant population, something like 30% of the Auckland population are fluent in another language. I regularly have lunch in downtown Auckland, and it would be unusual for me not to have someone speaking a different language within earshot. I love it.

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4 Comments

  1. Isn’t it cool?

    I worried that returning home from Singapore was going to render me globally culturally unaware. I needn’t’ve.

    In my office, we have two Maori speakers, one Tongan, a Frenchman, three (?!) Croatians (one Croatiman and two Croatiwomen), a Burmeseperson, two Singaporean Chinese Mandarin speakers, and a whole bunch of mongrel Kiwis who learnt French or Japanese (or in my case, French and Japanese and Latin (FFS!)) at school and are even now augmenting their lexicability with podcasts in Italian.

    Still, though, I remember the restaurant in Greece where the Maitre D’ (which ISN’T EVEN A GREEK WORD, dude!) threw us out because we didn’t seem to speak other than English…

  2. I love the fact that there are so many cultures here in NZ, but I also believe the “when in Rome” theory, and in my mind English is the main language here in NZ. So when I hear other cultures (even my OWN) speaking in a different language when there are non-speakers around, I find it quite rude.

    Maybe thats symptomatic of my own upbringing, was never really raised in my culture; while my parents will speak to me in our native language, and I can understand them, I always respond back in English.
    Not by active choice, just cause, I always have.

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