BILINGUAL SIGNS

Many libraries throughout the country have adopted bilingual signs or are planning to in the future. This chapter looks at the reasons why bilingual signs are a good idea and provides guidance on the process of consultation. The guidance is offered in the form of hints or tips. There is no one, set way to undertake consultation and to a large extent libraries will have to `feel their way' according to local circumstances.


WHY HAVE BILINGUAL SIGNS

Apart from their basic purpose of communicating to Māori language speakers, bilingual signs demonstrate a commitment to a more general bicultural process.


HARDLY ANYONE SPEAKS MĀORI - INCLUDING MĀORI PEOPLE. TO HAVE BILINGUAL IS TOKENISM

Some New Zealanders may be surprised to learn that as many as 50,000 people are estimated to be fluent speakers of Māori. Many thousands more have Māori language ability at a lesser level of fluency.

The reasons why relatively few Māori speak the language have been discussed in chapter one. As also previously mentioned, current education initiatives such as kohanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori, have been developed to restore Māori language fluency, but struggle to operate in the wider environment of English language dominance. Bilingual signs help to create an environment that supports these initiatives.

Even if the majority of Māori who might enter a library are unable to speak te reo fluently, having signs in Māori acknowledges the language of the tangata whenua, and signals a message of welcome.




MĀORI LANGUAGE SIGNS ARE NOT APPROPRIATE FOR OUR LIBRARY. WE HAVE MORE ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLAND SPEAKING CLIENTS THAN WE DO MĀORI.


Māori language signs are appropriate in any New Zealand library, and indeed in any public space in this country, regardless of specific clientele. The provision of signage in English' and Māori contributes to the creation of an environment which acknowledges that New Zealand has a language which is indigenous to this country. English is also the dominant language in Hawaii and Wales. Yet visitors or immigrants to those places would not be surprised or irritated to see signs in the Welsh or Hawaiian languages.

"The Māori culture [and language] of today is unique to New Zealand... Its source of nourishment is New Zealand: it in turn nourishes the identity of the peoples who live here. Our country is the puna wai (source) of an unique language and heritage.

"Many cultures - for example, Dalmatian, Greek, Chinese, Samoan -contribute to New Zealand's diversity, but their culture and past are also celebrated in other countries".

Having signs in te reo Māori does not necessarily preclude having signs in the languages of other client groups.




HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT WORDS

There is not necessarily one `right' Māori word for the equivalent of every English word, especially with terms that are specific to libraries. This is why it is essential to liaise with local sources of expertise, rather than choose indiscriminately from a dictionary or word list. Sometimes tribal or regional dialects are also a factor to take into account.

Consultation over bilingual signage is a good way of initiating contact or ongoing liaison with a potential Māori clientele. Local expertise may come from a variety of sources, including local iwi, local marae, Māori studies departments of local schools or tertiary institutions, kura kaupapa Māori and kohanga reo. Many local authorities have Māori consultative bodies or advisory committees. Sometimes a regular or familiar Māori client or a Māori staff member may also be able to provide useful advice.

Contact can be made initially by letter, followed up by a phone call and a visit or meeting.

It is a good idea to do some `homework' before initiating consultation over Māori language signs. Often this can be as simple and obvious as knowing clearly in advance what your exact signage requirements are in English first.

Sometmes asking local sources for a list of translations from scratch can be a daunting task, requiring a lot of thought and work, particularly if the work is extensive. In these instances it may be advisable to draw up a list using a range of Māori translations from Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) or published sources (such as the word list in the following chapter) and asking local sources for their opinion or preferences.

Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori, is available to provide quality assurance on bilingual signs. A general rule of thumb, endorsed by Te Taura Whiri is to avoid using transliterations where possible. Another recommended practise is the use of mācrons to indicate vowel length.

When planning the installation of bilingual signs, make allowances in your budget for koha or consultation fees. It may be appropriate to plan a special event around the installation of the signs. This can help create a focus, acknowledge the assistance received and consolidate ongoing liaison.

It is also important to familiarise library staff with the new signs, ideally before they are installed. This may involve coaching in correct pronunciation and explaining how the Māori translations relate to the English equivalents.

1. Te ao Māori in the school library = Te ao Māori i roto i te whare mātauranga o te kura. Department of Education, 1987.