Annotated Working Bibliography on Māori Language Revitalization

(12th-ish version, 12 July 2019)


This bibliography provides commentary on the important literature on Māori language revitalization. The literature is loosely divided into important recent references (within the last 7 years) and classic references (further literature is provided in the reference list below). Key authors include Richard Benton, Ray Harlow, Bernard Spolsky, Winifred Bauer and more recently Stephen May and Jeanette King. These authors, none of whom are Māori (yet most are Māori speakers), are sometimes ignored by Māori writers and Māori thesis students, due to either poor scholarship (i.e., a lack of awareness of the linguistic or the wider literature) or for ideological reasons. There is important work on Māori language revitalization only available in the medium of Māori. Familiarity with the general literature on endangered languages, language documentation and minority bilingual/immersion education is highly recommended (see the references below).


Recent References (By Publication Date)

(1) Māori: revitalization of an Endangered Language.  (2018)

A Jeanette King overview chapter in the recently released Oxford Handbook on Endangered Languages.

(2) Language revitalization in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  (2018)

A Stephen May and Richard Hill overview chapter in the Routledge Handbook on Endangered Languages, also recently released.

(3) Revitalization of the Māori language (2017). A chapter in an introductory volume on Languages of the Pacific Islands. I have ordered a copy.

(4) The journeys of besieged languages. (2016)

An edited volume with chapters on Māori, Hawaiian and other threatened languages.

(5) Perfecting the partnership: revitalising the Māori language in New Zealand education and society. (2015)

A Richard Benton journal article updating a 1988 publication and providing commentary on efforts since the 1987 Māori Language Act and focusing on the Wai 262 Report (Ko Aotearoa tēnei) (see below). It notes gains made, however is critical of focus given to Māori immersion education and the under resourcing of Māori bilingual education and Pasifika language education in New Zealand. A must read publication.

(6) Revitalising the Māori language? (2014)

A Jeanette King chapter in an Oxford volume on endangered language beliefs and attitudes. Discussion focuses on kōhanga reo (language nests) and 1st generation of new speakers. Includes commentaries on ideologies of speakers and language planners. Essential reading.

(7) The value of the Māori language: Te hua o te reo Māori. (2014).

An eclectic yet important volume, including chapters written in Māori. Chapters by Karena Kelly and Mamari Stephens are very important. Other chapters are mixed, some are not so well done. Some of the discussion on (language) values and attitudes (and their supposed conflation) is actually not correct and has serious flaws. I'll discuss this in depth elsewhere.

(8) Māori in the 21st Century: climate change for a minority language? (2013)

A Ray Harlow and Julie Barbour chapter in an important, yet little cited volume. Its quite detailed (around 9000 words) with discussions on topics including attitudes, standardisation, census data, institutional support and education. Its slightly out of date, but still is required reading.


Classic References (By Author Order)

(1) Bauer, W. (2008). Is the health of te reo Māori improving? Te Reo, 51, 33-73.

This journal article critiques the 2001 and 2006 National censuses. It suggests the methodology employed are problematic and that their is need to interpret their results with care. In other words those interpreting census results are too optimistic in their conclusions and in reality Māori is much worse off than suggested. The article advocates a rethinking in terms of current Māori language strategies and resource allocation. This is a very important journal article. Unfortunately Te Reo, the Journal of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand has only recently gone online and previous issues will be made available in the future. Chris Lane is currently working on census data but has not yet published anything.

(2) Benton, R. A. (1991). The Māori language: Dying or reviving?

This paper (44 pages) provides an overview of the now famous NZCER (New Zealand Council for Educational Research) Sociolinguistic Survey of Māori Language Use undertaken in the 1970s. It is important because it was first research evidence confirming that the Māori language was in a perilous state (i.e. in rapid decline) and would soon disappear unless drastic measures were urgently undertaken. The survey focused on rural Māori communities and demonstrated that there were only several isolated places in the North Island where Māori was still being used by a significant number of the local Māori community. Much has changed since the 1970s and the paper is largely of historic value. Should still be read. It appeared in 1991 and was reprinted by NZCER in 1997.

(3) Benton, N. B. E. and R. A. Benton (1999). Revitalizing the Māori language, Unpublished Consultants Report to the Māori Development Education Commission.

An eclectic document (128 pages, almost exclusively text) that ranges over many issues concerning Māori language and Māori language revitalization. Written as a report to a now defunct commission it assumes its audience is already highly familiar with the New Zealand scene. The Bentons suggest future directions for Māori language revitalization efforts which on occasions conflict with current thinking and practices (especially the role of Māori in bilingual/immersion education). Some may not agree with the authors, however this report is clearly very important and needs to be read by all seriously interested in this topic.

(4) Harlow, R. (2003). Issues in Māori language planning and revitalisation. He Puna Kōrero: Journal of Māori and Pacific Development, 4(1), 32-43.

Ray Harlow's views on key issues facing Māori language. Makes insightful comments on language standardization, the ad-hoc nature of Māori planning, and the role of relevant government agencies and their attempts to formulate effective policy.

(5) Harlow, R. (2005). Covert attitudes to Māori. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 133-147.

Article suggests that many (including old Māori speakers), actually hold negative attitudes towards Māori, i.e., practice often does not match rhetoric. Māori language attitudes requires further research.

(6) Harlow, R. (2007). Māori: A linguistic introduction.

Ray Harlow's description of Māori and changes happening as a result of influence of English, includes discussions on the status of Māori as an endangered language.

(7) Fishman, J. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages.

An important academic book by perhaps the leading scholar on language revitalization. Fishman proposes a model whereby languages are ranked on scale (i.e., stages) ranging from stage eight (language severely endangered, e.g. few remaining elderly speakers) to stage one (language well supported in education, government, media, communities etc. etc.) The book details 10 languages as case studies of endangered languages at various stages according to the model (in many cases there is overlap between the stages). It includes a chapter on Māori. The account of Māori revitalization is as accurate as can be expected given the literature available at that time. There were many activities not mentioned in the text, e.g. groups and individuals based at educational institutions and settings (especially universities), others were based on Māori organizations. Much has changed since then and in retrospect many in New Zealand probably now have a better understanding of what actually happened and why. This book was widely read in New Zealand. My impression is that some have misinterpreted the book, others considering it to be the final word or the only worthy explanation of language revitalization. Models are almost always simplifications of reality and many are extensively revised or are sometimes discarded. Fishman's model has its critics and there are alternative models and viewpoints by other authors (see Baker & Wright, 2017, chapter 7, Crystal, 2000; Spolsky, 2004, chapter 12). In summary, an important book which has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of language revitalization. A follow up volume has been produced, i.e., Fishman (2001). Harlow and Barbour (2013) can be considered an update to Benton's chapter in Fishman (2001).

(8) Fishman, J. (Ed.) (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: A 21st century perspective.

This edited volume contains updates on languages mentioned in 13 Fishman (1991) and discusses others previously not covered. Local or USA based experts provide updates on a selection of languages with Fishman providing an overview and revisiting the framework proposed in the original volume. The chapter on Māori was written by Richard and Nena Benton who know the New Zealand situation intimately and have made an enormous contribution to Māori language and education through research, writings and much behind the scenes activity. The Bentons conclude that under Fishman's framework Māori has only made modest gains in the last decade. Clearly there is much than could be said about Māori in the last ten years (and no doubt other languages) than a chapter space allows. Fortunately, the Bentons provide details in other later publications. My impression is that a different picture emerges for some of the larger (in terms of numbers of speakers) endangered 'European' languages such as Basque, Catalan, and Canadian French (Hebrew, as the relevant chapter argues, is a rather unique case). These languages may fit Fishman's framework better than the others and their chances of survival are much greater. Welsh is not mentioned in either volume, however, under a case study approach not every language of interest can be included. Fishman's commentary on the case studies and reversing language shift provides further clarification and a re-stating of positions given in the first volume. This book which should be studied in conjunction with the previous volume. It contains insights and challenges for both scholars and activists battling daily to revive or maintain their own languages.

(9) Grin, F. and Vaillancourt, F. (1998).  Language Revitalisation Policy: An Analytical Survey.Theoretical Framework, Policy Experience and Application to Te Reo Māori. Wellington, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

This report (238 pages long) was commissioned New Zealand's Treasury (a government department) in attempt to gain an economist's perspective on language revitalization. Grin and Vaillancourt are economists who have attempted elsewhere to quantify and explain language revitalization by using economic frameworks and modeling. Their work is well known in some circles, but not by most New Zealanders. The report is divided into three sections, an analytical framework, policy experience, and implications for Māori. Of particular interest is the commentary on effective language policies, from economic perspectives. Examples are mostly from language minorities which seem to be increasing (in terms of numbers of speakers), i.e., Welsh and Basque. The report finishes by suggesting implications of policies aimed at the revitalization of Māori. It concludes that Māori has the potential for revitalization, but much (policy) work is required and that there is a need for affective and regular measures of policy implementation. Some policy approaches suggested by the authors, in particular a reliance on Māori-medium education to produce large numbers of Māori speakers will be regarded by many as impractical. In my opinion the report's conclusions need to be treated with caution given that much more detailed data is now available. As Fishman's re-visitation has shown, there is much that can be gained by re-examining case studies in the light of new data and further input from other expertise.

(10) Spolsky, B. (2003) Reassessing Māori regeneration Language in Society 32 (4), 553-578.

A key paper by world renown academic Bernard Spolsky who has made important contributions to bilingual education, language testing, language policy, sociolinguistics as well as language revitalization. The paper argues that Māori language revitalization should not be understood as language loss followed by revitalization activities, rather it is the result of a long process of negotiation between the indigenous Māori and European settlers. Spolsky was domiciled in New Zealand for many years and has kept in touch with developments. Well known in New Zealand for his 1987 Report on Māori Bilingual Education which highlighted the need for increased and diversified teacher training to supply the anticipated growth in programmes. The provision of good teachers for Māori-medium programmes is still a major problem. Finally, Spolsky's (2004) book on language policy is relevant and well worth reading.

(11)  Te Reo Mauriora Te Paepae Motuhake's review of the Māori language sector and the Māori language strategy, April 2011.

Commissioned by Dr Pita Sharples (Minister of Māori affairs at that time) and led by Emeritus Professor Sir Tamati Reedy and team of well known Māori language activists, this report is an interesting document.

As with the Wai 262 report (October 2010) Te Paepae Motuhake is clearly not convinced that Te Taura Whiri (Māori Language Commission) is functioning as it should. The report suggests a Māori language minister and separate board that reports to that minister. It also recommends runanga-a-iwi (tribal authorities) to assist with increasing the amount of Māori language spoken at home. A previous Taura Whiri CEO attempted to set up regional language centres which never really succeeded.

The review is right to emphasize that Māori language needs to be spoken more in Māori homes. Little detail is provided on how this is be effected and it seems to ignore the practicality that the majority of Māori aren't really that interested in investing the time required to learn the language to a high degree of proficiency needed to sustain household interactions in Māori.

Few iwi authorities are currently in a position to assist with increasing the amount of Māori spoken in homes. Clearly some are active in this area (e.g., Ngati Raukawa), others lack the organisation or resources and may engage in symbolic gestures. Too often it is forgotten that the majority of Māori no longer live in their traditional iwi regions, and too many urbanized Māori have very little meaningful contact with iwi organisations.

The group least visible in this report is the rangatahi (young people), especially graduates of Māori-medium programmes who are now raising their own children. It is this group that will determine the future of the language and certainly needs support.

The review led to the establishment of Te Mātāwai in 2017 and a refocusing of Te Taura Whiri activities. Te Mātāwai is supposed to focus on assisting iwi and further policy development.

(12) Waitangi Tribunal (1989). Te reo Māori report: Wai 11 (2nd Ed). Wellington: GP Publications.

This report (51 pages) details the 1986 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal to have Māori recognized as a taonga 'treasure' and therefore guaranteed government protection under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi signed between Māori and the (British) Crown. The Tribunal found in support of the claimants and its subsequent recommendations to the government of the day lead directly to the establishment of the Māori Language Commission and a commitment from the government to support Māori language revitalization initiatives. Clearly a major milestone and turning point in the history of Māori language revitalization.

(13)  Waitangi Tribunal. (2010) Wai 262 Tribunal chapter on te reo Māori.

An interesting very long chapter that makes far reaching recommendations on what needs to be done to save the Māori language from "imminent death" (This is not really true, Māori language is not about to die). It rightly highlights trends of decreasing in enrolements in kōhanga reo and Māori-medium education programmes. There are few explanations offered of why this has happened. Much of the blame is directed towards government policy and its lack of implementation. As the report notes the relationship between Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development) and the Māori Language Commission is problematic and roles are not clearly defined. Many Te Puni Kōkiri people involved in Māori language policy formation have either moved on to other positions or no longer work for Te Puni Kōkiri. Some of its language policy work itself is of questionable value. The Māori Language Commission has changed key personnel in recent years and is no longer the same organisation since the departure of highly influential former commissioner, Timoti Karetu. Benton's (2015) comments on this report are essential reading. The Wai 262 report is here.


1 The term 'revitalize' is sometimes written as 'revitalise'. The -ize form may be more common.

2 'revitalize' synonyms include 'regeneration','restoration', 'reversing language shift', 'language revival', or even 'language revernacularisation'.

3 The term Māori can refer to either the people or language of the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand.

4 Some authors (mainly academics) use Aotearoa/New Zealand or New Zealand/Aotearoa, or just Aotearoa when referring to the country commonly known in the English speaking world as New Zealand.

5 An ideologue is someone who blindly adheres to set a beliefs, ideas, principles, or ideologies about a particular topic that lack any factual or scientific basis. People often hold strange ideas and ideologies about language and language use; and become angry and irrational when these ideas are challenged. Linguistic purism is a type of language ideology.

6  Reedy(2000) (listed below) claims the Māori population at 1840 numbered between 200,000 and 250,000; Pool (2015), a well known demographer, argues for estimate of 90,000 at 1840. I have no idea from where or how Reedy derived his numbers. This claim is repeated elsewhere in the literature.


Baker, C., & Wright, W. (2017). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (6th Edition). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Austin, P. K., & Sallabank, J. (Eds.). (2011). The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bauer, W. (2008). Is the health of te reo Māori improving? Te Reo, 51, 33-73.

Bell, S., Harlow, R., & Starks, D. (Eds.). (2005). Languages of New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington Press.

Benton, N. B. E., & Benton, R. A. (1999). Revitalizing the Māori language, Unpublished Consultants Report to the Māori Development Education Commission, New Zealand.

Benton, R. A. (1991). The Māori language: Dying or reviving? Honolulu: East West Center (Reprinted by New Zealand Council for Educational Research in 1997).

Benton, R. A. (2015). Perfecting the partnership: revitalising the Māori language in New Zealand education and society 1987–2014. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28(2), 99-112. doi:10.1080/07908318.2015.1025001

Benton, R. A. (2017). Revitalization of the Māori language. In H. Sato & J. Bradshaw (Eds.), Languages of the Pacific Islands: Introductory readings (2nd ed., pp. 238–256). Seattle: Amazon.

Chrisp, S. (2005). Māori intergenerational language transmission. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 149-181.

Crystal, D. (2002). Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Day, D., Rewi, P. & Higgins, R. (Eds). (2016). The journeys of besieged languages. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Fishman, J. A. (Ed.) (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: A 21st century perspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Grin, F., & Vaillancourt, F. (1998). Language Revitalisation Policy: An Analytical Survey.Theoretical Framework, Policy Experience and Application to Te Reo Māori. Report to the Treasury, Wellington, New Zealand/Aotearoa.

Harlow, R. B., & Barbour, J. (2013). Māori in the 21st Century: climate change for a minority language? In W. Vandenbussche, E. H. Jahr, & P. Trudgill (Eds.), Language Ecology for the 21st Century: Linguistic Conflicts and Social Environments (pp. 241-266). Oslo: Novus Press.

Harlow, R. (2003). Issues in Māori language planning and revitalisation. He Puna Kōrero: Journal of Māori and Pacific Development, 4(1), 32-43.

Harlow, R. (2005). Covert attitudes to Māori. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 133-147.

Harlow, R. (2007). Māori: A linguistic introduction.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Higgins, R., Rewi, P., & Olsen-Reeder, V. (Eds.). (2014). The value of the Māori language: Te hua o te reo Māori. Wellington: Huia Publishers.

Holmes, J. (2005). Using Māori English in New Zealand. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 91-115.

Ka'ai, T. (2017). Great-grandfather, please teach me my language. Multilingua: Journal of Cross-cultural and interlanguage communication Special Issue: In honor of Joshua Fishman, 36(5), 541-563. doi:10.1515/multi-2017-3044.

King, J. (2001). Te Kōhanga Reo: Māori language revitalization. in L. Hinton & K. Hale. (Eds), The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice (pp. 119-128). San Diego:Academic Press.

King, J. (2014). Revitalising the Māori language? In P. Austin & J. Sallabank (Eds.), Endangered languages: beliefs and ideologies in language documentation and revitalisation (pp. 215-230). Oxford: Oxford University Press/British Academy.

King J. (2018). Māori: revitalization of an Endangered Language. In Rehg K.L., & Campbell L. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages(pp. 592-612). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

May, S., & Hill, R. (2018). Language revitalization in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In L. Hinton, L. Huss, & G. Roche (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization (pp. 309-319). Routledge.

Mutu, M. (2005). In search of the missing Māori links - maintaining both ethnic identity and linguistic integrity in the revitalization of the Māori language, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 172, 117-132.

Reedy, T. (2000). Te Reo Māori: The past 20 years and looking forward. Oceanic Linguistics, 39(1), 157-169.

Research New Zealand. (2007). 2006 Survey of the health of the Māori language: Final report. Wellington, NZ: Te Puni Kōkiri/Ministry of Māori Development.

Spolsky, B. (1987). Report on Māori - English bilingual education. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, New Zealand.

Spolsky, B. (2003). Reassessing Māori regeneration. Language in Society 32(4), 553-578.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Te Paepae Motuhake. (2011). Te Reo Mauriora: Te Arotakenga o te Rāngai Reo Māori me te Rautaki Reo Māori, Review of the Māori Language Sector and the Māori Language Strategy. Wellington: Te Puni Kōkiri.

Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development). (2002). The Health of the Māori language in 2001. Wellington, New Zealand, Māori Language Monitoring Team, Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development).

Waitangi Tribunal. (1989). Te reo Māori report: Wai 11 (2nd Ed). Wellington, New Zealand: GP Publications.

Waitangi Tribunal. (2011). Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: A Report into Claims Concerning New Zealand Law and Policy Affecting Māori Culture and Identity. Taumata Tuatahi (Report no. Wai 262). Retrieved from

Last modified: 12 July 2019.