Language is a crucial part of a changing society

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples

Tonga Language Week starts on Sunday, providing us all with the opportunity to reflect on the role languages play in a changing society. 

“Right across government we are making changes to help resolve the long-term challenges facing New Zealanders. We are also taking steps to ensure that the changing world of work brings benefits and opportunities for all of us,” says Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio.

“We may not think of this right away, but languages are an important part of this. Because we use language to interpret what change means, for ourselves, our families and our communities. It is important that we can do this using our own words and the frames of reference they create. 

“With a knowledge of our languages we can think more deeply about how we contribute to change, as well as thinking about how change impacts on our culture and traditions, whatever they may be.

Tonga Language Week is the third of seven Pacific language weeks that will take place in 2019.

“Everyone, no matter where they are from, should be able to think, dream and speak in their own language. But, right now, the future of our Pacific languages is fragile and diminishing by the generation.

“Put in the context of broader change, what that means is that if we do not act, the words that future generations of Pacific New Zealanders use to understand where they come from and how they see the world will not be their own.

The theme for Tonga Language Week is “Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Tauhi Fonua”, or, in English, “a Tongan Perspective of Enriching Aotearoa, New Zealand”. Tonga Language Week runs from Sunday 1 September to Saturday 7 September.

“For me, this theme captures what I am saying about the role of language in our changing society. We have always known that embracing our Pacific culture would not hold us back, but rather propel us forward.

“What the theme does, is provide us with a space to reflect on the huge contribution Pacific languages make to life in Aotearoa and to think deeply about how we embrace this to ensure the change we are driving works for all our communities.

It was announced in this year’s Wellbeing Budget that the government would allocate $20 million over the next four years to ensure Aotearoa New Zealand is home to thriving Pacific languages.

“Changing the status of Pacific languages is a long-term project that requires all of us, including politicians, officials, community, academics, journalists, teachers and parents, to work together. That’s why our decision in the Budget to allocate funding to establish a dedicated Pacific Language Unit within the Ministry for Pacific Peoples is so important,” says Aupito William Sio.

This year’s Tonga Language Week has even greater significance than normal as it takes place during the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Tonga Language Week will be officially launched today at 3pm by Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki MP. The launch will take place at the Banquet Hall in Parliament.

Further information about Tonga Language Week including resources can be found here.