Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A first serious post

Maori lay complaint over name

A campaign by local Maori to have the district's name spelt as they believe it should be was rejected by 82 per cent of those who voted in a referendum last month. But Whanganui iwi spokesman Ken Mair said yesterday he had laid a complaint with the commission, which had accepted it and would appoint a mediator. Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws and the district council failed to understand that it was a fundamental right to ensure that the integrity of the Maori language was upheld, he said. Whanganui, meaning big expanse of water, was the name given by Maori 100 years ago and, without an "h", had no meaning.

At issue is the name of a town in New Zealand. The name of the river that runs beside town, is Whanganui, the town once named Whanganui, however, now it is known as Wanganui.

I guess they are trying to enforce an orthodoxy. They are trying to defend their language, which not to long ago was probably best described as endangered. I don't think that there is anything neccassarily wrong with that, but on the other hand languages evolve over time, pronunciation changes, new words are adopted, old words are forgotten. Admittedly I don't think this is the case so much here, although if Maori is a living language then it will change over time, which this might be an example of. Nevertheless, the relevant question is "has the meaning of the town's name remained constant?", or "has the meaning changed", or just lost it's relevance? Does the name of the town mean something different from what it was initially named for?

When people say Wanganui are thinking of a "vast expanse of water" or are they thinking of that town in the lower North Island? Personally, I think of a particular town in the lower North Island next to the Whanganui river.


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