The best name for the job

As far as we know the first people in New Zealand were the Māori who arrived around 900 years ago.

From about the 1700s others started popping up and in 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Māori and the British Crown. Fast forward to now and there is guaranteed to be an uproar from the more extreme members of our community any time there’s a suggestion, a hint, a whiff, of changing an English language placename to Māori.

I live near a small town known as Levin. That’s usually pronounced like le as the French say the definite article, and vin, as in the first part of Vinnie. The stress comes on the vin part. The name is that of a fellow who had something to do with creating the railway station, but who apparently never visited.

But the land for the town was given by its Māori owners who suggested it be called Taitoko. That’s said rather like tie and tow and co like the first part of cocoa. The stress is on the to part.

Recently it was mentioned in passing by a city Councillor that perhaps the Māori name could be used. Cue outraged Letters to the Editor.

Now, something to know is that Māori is written with a reduced English alphabet. The pronunciation is really consistent, and once you know how to say the 5 vowels, and that a macron (the short straight line sometimes used above a vowel) makes the vowel sound longer, you have the pronunciation basically sussed. While there are subtle differences between how the English language says an a sound, for example, and how a Māori person says it, pronouncing Māori is pretty straightforward.

All of that, along with the fact that I love language and languages and how they sound, is the necessary background to why I laughed at this: Videos teach how to pronounce Indigenous-named plazas [in Vancouver].

Apparently Vancouver has consulted the indigenous peoples and renamed 2 plazas. (Go Vancouver!) Here I will need to copy and paste and hope this comes out right.

This is the new name of the giant open space on the north side of the VAG: šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square.

According to the City of Vancouver, it “refers to a place where a cultural gathering occurs such as a wedding, funeral, naming, honouring, or coming of age ceremony”. The name incorporates languages of all three First Nations.

English speaking folks like me can’t even read half those letters.

This is the new name of the gathering place outside the Queen E: šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn Square.

It “refers to the Walks for Reconciliation which bring tens of thousands of people to the plaza to walk together in recognition of residential school survivors, acknowledge those that did not survive, and celebrate the work that’s being done to redress this legacy”.

No problem: there are two helpful videos for pronouncing the names. But, guess what! English speaking folks like me can’t even say some of those sounds without a heap of practice.

If the racists have a fit about using Māori placenames in New Zealand, they would die of apoplexy with these Indigenous names in Vancouver.

In case I haven’t made my position plain: I love that Indigenous people are clawing back their heritage and support them in their struggles. I’m currently learning Te Reo Māori and would support all attempts to change placenames in New Zealand to the names that local Māori believe to be appropriate. One of my goals this year is to learn to pronounce all our placenames correctly.

Now, those videos from Vancouver:

Miraz Jordan @Miraz

Please take a look at my Love Waikawa Beach website too.