Eleanor Meecham | May 10, 2023
If you work in New Zealand’s public service, you may be wondering, ‘Can I use te reo Māori under the Plain Language Act?’ That’s an excellent question, and the short answer is ‘yes’. However your organisation already uses kupu Māori, you can keep doing that. Here’s a snippet from Section 6 of the Act.
Nothing in this Act prevents or restricts a reporting agency from including te reo Māori in any relevant document.
Now let’s hear from MP Rachel Boyack, who sponsored the Plain Language Bill.
It is absolutely acceptable and encouraged to still continue using Māori language within our documents. For example, there are words that have become commonplace in Aotearoa, like the word ‘mahi’ , which means ‘work’. Including a word like that in a document — we’ve explicitly said that is still to be encouraged. Because what we wouldn’t want is for this Act to accidentally stop agencies from being far more inclusive about the use of te reo Māori.
The Plain Language Act 2022 does not affect either:
These Acts state that government organisations should use te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language to provide information and promote government services to the public. Both are official languages. You can use them separately to English or combined with English.
Using te reo Māori in government content helps to celebrate the language and normalise its use. Your organisation may already have advice on how to go about this. Under the Maihi Karauna (the Crown’s Strategy to revitalise te reo Māori), each government organisation should have its own language plan. Through the plan, your organisation will:
A common dilemma is whether to translate kupu Māori when using them in English documents. On one hand, using words with translations helps more people learn more reo Māori. On the other hand, using words without translations helps to affirm the status of te reo Māori in Aotearoa. Both of these are key goals of Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori 2016/the Māori Language Act 2016.
If your organisation already has guidance on when to translate, follow that advice. If not, a sensible approach is to:
Digital.govt.nz has tips on using kupu Māori in an English context in government content.
The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary tells us which Māori words are used in NZ English. These words are part of everyday language and do not need to be translated or added to a glossary of terms.
Here are just a few examples.
Who is the primary audience for your content? If you’re writing mainly for people new to Aotearoa, or people considering a life here, they probably know fewer kupu Māori than people who were born here or have spent years here. This may affect how much reo Māori you use in English content, or how much you translate the kupu you do include. Again, your organisation may already have advice on this.
By law, you must now use plain language for relevant government documents written in English. But the principles of plain writing are useful across languages.
Plain language content is well organised, clear, and concise, with key points made obvious. Headings are frequent, and paragraphs and sentences are mostly short. If you’re writing for the New Zealand public, all those things should be true — no matter which language you use. Writing plainly does not mean stripping away cultural conventions, such as opening with whakataukī or karakia.
Another thing to remember is that translation is easier when your source content is plain. If you’re creating content that will have versions in other languages, make sure it’s plain and straightforward.
Like others in government, you may have questions about meeting the Act. Let us know what you’re wondering and we’ll do our best to help.