I spent my school years growing up in Wanganui, and for the time being I’m back here, taking care of family matters. Having grown up here as a PÄkehÄ with strong connections in Te Ao MÄori, I can say with some authority that the region is mostly populated by unreformed PÄkehÄ racists who loathe MÄori out of fear bred from profound ignorance. I say mostly – but not entirely; there is an understandably large MÄori population, and some more tolerant PÄkehÄ. This fear and loathing is both the cause and the result of the fact that MÄori in Wanganui are poorer, less-well educated and more likely to be involved in crime than non-MÄori. Not so different from the general mentality of NZ as a whole, but stronger.
The Wanganui District Council yesterday voted against recommending to the NZ Geographic Board that the name be changed to its proper spelling – Whanganui, endorsing a 2006 referendum in which 82% of respondents favoured retaining the spelling. This post comprises two parts: first, an argument as to why retaining the name without the h is an absurd example of the grasping settler mentality; and second, an explication of how this morning’s front-page article on the topic frames the issue as a crisis, and promotes the same sort of fear and ignorance by marginalising and ridiculing the voices and opinions of those favouring the change.
Many will baulk at my referring to the 21st Century residents of Wanganui and its district as `settlers’, given that the settlement was one of the original four established by the New Zealand Company in 1840. Most of them would refer to themselves as `battlers’, and that’s almost as appropriate. What marks people out as settlers is the grasping siege mentality of scarcity – they came here with nothing, they have to get whatever they can get, and damned if they’ll let any of it go. Generations on, and even among those whose families weren’t settlers, this mentality remains. They live here, and they grasp, but generally they make few and feeble attempts to engage with tangata whenua, seeing them as outsiders, as enemies, and as competitors because on some level there is a recognition that they retain a moral claim to resources, discourse and authority. The settlers, despite this recognition, consider that it is their land, and their river and their town, and any arguments or evidence to the contrary are met with hostility and the rhetoric of assimilation.
Mayor Michael Laws:
Wanganui is not a Maori name. It has assumed an identity, a heritage, a history and a mana of its own.
You’ll go far to find a more convenient statement of revisionist ignorance in NZ identity politics. This forms the sole and entire argument in principle against the name change: it’s been that way for ages, so the word no longer means what it once meant – or more plainly, it’s an old mistake so it’s no longer a mistake. If this were to hold everywhere, then the mis-transliteration or misspelling of any word would necessarily destroy any connection to the original in every case: a patently idiotic idea. The fact is that Wanganui is a MÄori word, misspelt by the original transliterators because the local dialect drops the `h’, pronouncing `Whanganui’ and `Wanganui’ practically the same, with a Wa sound, not a Fo sound. It’s not a new word – it’s the old word misspelt but pronounced correctly. This is a critically important example of the damn-fool ignorance I’m talking about: most of those against the change complain that they don’t want to have to pronounce it with a `F’, not realising despite mostly having lived here all their lives that nobody would. Hardly anyone pronounces the name of the river – which name is spelt with the h – as such; just ignorant but wanting-to-be-culturally-sensitive PÄkehÄ, or other MÄori wanting to make a point about the superiority of their dialect over the local one.
So, the argument in principle is invalid, and the argument of practicality is equally invalid. Why are people so opposed to the change? Because the local MÄori want to exert their rangatiratanga by insisting the name of the settlement on the river be rendered correctly, as a symbolic matter, and the settlers are opposed to any assertion of rangatiratanga for fear that they might lose control over their identity and their community, or become hori-fied, as Dam Native put it. Spelling, pronunciation and other such matters are important symbolic markers of identity and authority, and the river and its surrounds physical manifestations of that. As local iwi say: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river, the river is me. That such a central part of their identity may be grasped and mutilated and withheld as if it no longer belonged to them is almost as grave an insult as is possible.
This grasping settler mentality is the fundamental reason why MÄori have to endure a decades-long, frightfully expensive and time-consuming judicial process under a foreign system weighted against them, generations after the fact and opposed every step of the way by the crown, business, the media and the settler public, in order to get a fraction of one per cent of the reparations to which they might otherwise be entitled. It’s the same principle which prompted the Iwi/Kiwi ignorance, and the same which recently led to the rhetorical backlash against the vesting of Ka Mate in NgÄti Toa Rangatira, about which I wrote recently. It grasps things of value, and then refuses to return them, or share them, or relinquish any control over them, no matter how slight, and even when such a gesture of goodwill would be the basis for more meaningful and harmonious engagement with the settled outsiders and a route to a more peaceful future, not the opening of the floodgates feared by the settler majority.
Wanganui has a provincial village mentality, and this is quite strongly reflected in its media which are highly conservative, in the sense that they reflexively endorse the status quo and the opinions of the majority, to the exclusion of heretodox voices which are characterised as fringe radicals of one sort or another. The daily Wanganui Chronicle in particular is the local Pollyanna – its motto is `Love this place!’, and its news follows one of two forms: local-folks-done-good, or bad-things-threatening-our-way-of-life. This reinforces the settler mentality, and it’s not too harsh to call the Chron a settler paper.
The Wanganui Chronicle‘s lead story this morning was headlined `H bombs in crucial vote’, with the `H’ in red lettering, alongside a large photo of MÄori protesters (although the secondary story `Protesters on the march’ notes that most protesters were PÄkehÄ). The corresponding story on the Chron‘s website has the same photo, but the more sedate `Council split over ‘H’ in Wanganui’ headline. Message: locally, this is war. For the rest of the country, it’s just another bit of local government trivia. The headline both minimised the importance of this issue as a symbolic matter of rangatiratanga and amplified its importance as a site for dispute between settlers and outsiders. People know they have to fight against it, but don’t know why.
The story lead with the fact that the vote was closer than expected – five councillors (of thirteen, including Laws) would not vote for the existing name. Prominent share of voice was granted to those five councillors, mostly making the arguments above, that the change was the correction of a historical inaccuracy and not `bending to the whims of radicals’, but the highlighting of these five councillors as opposed to the 82% majority in the referendum clearly framed them as the radicals in council – outsiders, out-of-step with their electorate. This was reinforced by three other points: first, one councillor said he was `ashamed’ at the response to the referendum, being as it was based on ignorance, fear and misunderstanding – the message in the context of his decision was that he was ashamed of the electorate, directly at odds with the adjacent `Love this place!’ vox pop of a cute girl talking about why Wanganui is so great, a variation of which is repeated daily on the front page.
Second, other than Laws, only one councillor who voted in favour of the existing spelling was quoted on the matter, saying that she was elected to `represent the views of her community, as expressed during the referendum process’, almost identical wording to that used by Laws, and a strong statement of normative majoritarian orthodoxy.
Third, Laws said, with somewhat wolfish magnanimity, that `it was comforting to see elected officials take an unpopular stance’, echoing other councillors who `acknowledged they could lose votes’ for refusing to endorse the existing name. Not a principled stance; an unpopular one; which represents them, not us. Message: If you’re not with us, you’re against the community, and if you’re against the majority, you’re the enemy by definition.
Against this background, there sometimes seems no hope for race relations in Wanganui, or perhaps even for NZ at large. At ANZAC weekend, I will be attending the launch of a book by Canterbury University scholar John Newton, at Hiruharama up the Whanganui river, which I expect will argue the opposite: that the spirit of goodwill and compromise and understanding exemplified by the relationship between poet James K Baxter and his associates and local MÄori during the 1960s and 70s provides a model for NZ race relations, opposed to the majoritarian settler orthodoxy which now dominates.
Having recently been through this whole issue, the outcome in Whangarei may show some light at the end of the tunnel. After being in and out of the news since being raised by local kaumatua in 2003, Parahaki was renamed Parihaka (which would appear a much more fundamental change than what you describe) in 2005 by the NZ Geographic Board, with the support of then mayor Pamela Peters.
Letters to the editor seethed seethed for the couple of weeks either side of the decision, there was a 2500 signature petition against the change, Muriel Newman got in on the act and made some noise, and then every body just moved on. The older generation will continue to say Parahaki while the young will learn the new pronounciation in school and in a couple of decades it will be a footnote.
Obviously a supportive mayor and a local Maori community that is possibly less marginalised/radicalised and more secure in its place and role in the wider community helped, but the same settler resistance and resentment you describe was to be found here.
People totally call it the Fonganui River.
I believe there are also arguments that because MÄori was an unwritten language, the transliteration was correct. Not only is it a regional pronunciation, it should also be a regional spelling difference (… because it was transliterated a difference in the sound would equal a difference in the spelling).
We don’t spell axe A-X even though that spelling is older and the pronunciations would be the same etc.
Or something like that.
And did you hear the way Michael Laws said mana?
Heh, Northland MÄori aren’t radical?
I think they certainly enjoy a much stronger power base, being more numerous and with a much more prominent history of dealings with the Crown and such authorities. Yes, this does show some light – but I think the battle lines were not so deeply entrenched in that case as in this.
Another counter-example is the renaming of `St Arnaud’ to `Rotoiti’, but I think this had rather more to do with attracting the attentions of tourists than with asserting rangatiratanga.
Perhaps the ignorant-but-well-meaning are more numerous than I’ve made out.
Yeah. These arguments aren’t being strongly put by the council, and are in any case invalid. The written Reo is standardised across the country – as with any written language. Where they exist, different implementations do express different identity positions, as in the color/colour dispute – but these aren’t really germane to MÄori since the identity component of those dialects are not written. If the written language in this case were a site of identity dispute, the people with authority to argue for `Wanganui’ instead of `Whanganui’ on these grounds would be the people who use the dialect – not the settlers who want to keep it for the sake of convenience and because they can exert cultural control over it.
Hear, with my ears? No, but normally he says it `maarnah’, which is more of a bastardisation than `Fonganui’; the ignorance, but without any of the well-meaning-ness (if that’s a word).
In this particular situation, time and place, resorting to radicalism wasn’t necessary. The WDC has (from the outside looking in, and in relative terms) a good working relationship with local Marae and iwi authorities.
Ha! I never knew that it was called anything other than Parihaka! (and I’m a history major)
The vote was five out of twelve for the change though so its only a matter of time. I don’t understand why the decision is being left to the local council though. It’s just my opinion but I reckon that it’s issues like this that should have been dealt with by the waitangi tribunal. Theft of a name is as bad as theft of land isn’t it?
The namer of names is the master of all things – or something like that – but, yeah, absolutely. I agree.
If I understand your summary of the facts correctly, this is going to be an awesome pyrrhic victory when the change inevitably happens. They’ll win the spelling argument only to have most of the country start pronouncing it in a way they don’t like. (Because, like it or not, we’ve all been taught to ‘f’ for ‘wh’.)
I’m tempted to throw in some troll-bait along the lines that we should spell it like the Maori did before the settlers arrived, but that would be silly. :-)
Because people already make an effort to pronounce maari words properly, right?
It would be silly – but it’s stock-in-trade for this sort of thing. When shares in Sealord were vested in NgÄi Tahu, plenty of people said things like `well, it’s ok by me, but only if they use dugout canoes and flax nets and bone hooks to do the fishing!’
I have heard lately some of my â€œvery white liberal agnst & guilt riddenâ€ workmates pronouncing the Wanganui (Whanganui?) river as Fonganui river and now the city also as Fonganui.
When I was at primary school in the late 60’s & early 70’s we pronounced places such as Whangarei as it is spelt (with out the “F” sound) as my parents generation would have. I think it would have been in the early to mid 80’s that pronunciation started changing to to “F” sound for the written “Wh” and seemingly (to me any way) with out any explanation as to why. My auntie (she is from the Maori side of the family, I’m from the Scottish side) who learned Maori as a child has always pronounced the “wh” as it is written, when I asked why the change in pronunciation my auntie and her friends just scoffed and implied that some other people speak differently. When I started my first job with social welfare we were â€œinstructedâ€ on pronunciation of Maori, I questioned â€œWhâ€ vs â€œFâ€ pronunciation and relayed the story of my auntie however rather than an explanation I was virtually accused of being racist and my auntie not being sophisticated enough to know any better (ie An Uneducated Native! This could also lead on to another story on how my Maori family have been treated). From my understanding the Maori language was written down ( mostly by missionary’s) after hearing the spoken word, therefore a lot of the Maori words were written as they are pronounced. therefore wh should not be an f sound. Is it possible to to get a non judgmental or condescending explanation for the pronunciation? ie why is whangarei now pronounced with a â€œFâ€ not a â€œWhâ€?
On the point of mixing with Maori it could be pointed out that people mix with those with who they relate and this includes behaviour and ecconomic position in society. As a Pakeha there are many Pakeha that I wouldn’t wish to mix with and I have been happy and proud to work for and with several Maori in my career.
As far as correcting a mistake I didn’t know the Maori had a written language before the arrival of Pakeha … if Maori in the Wanganui area pronounced it Wanganui then the “settlers’ were correct to write it that way.
As I understand it the Maori made such fools of the early attempts to subdue them when they fought for their rights under the treaty that it is inevitable that a defensive and attagonised attitude arose and has lasted. As a child during WWII I thought Germans the absolute devils etc until I shared a cruise liner cabin with some .. they were nice guys. Sadly it is a chicken and egg situation and criticism should allow for ecconomic reasons as in my first para.
Since of recent years I have got into the habit of using f for wh for appropriate words … not ‘which’ etc … I’d like to know what I am doing wrong since I thought that in the 19th century the English pronouced wh as f ????. But maybe the English who settled Wanganui spoke slghtly differently to those in other parts of the country … there are dozens of dialects in the UK, as I understand Maori in NZ. Obviously I am just a later day settler.
It is trivia and like all trivia is a storm in a teacup with very rough waves and I’d hope Wanganui gets over it pretty quick and gets on with raising the profile and ecconomic state of all in the area. Particularly Maori as the imprisoning of gang members is a waste of my tax .. in better ecconomic conditions there would be less or little inclination to forms gangs rather than clubs. I don’t give a tinkers about the letter one way of the other but the ecconomic condition of the poor, Maori and Pakeha, is serious.
Bless ’em for trying, but it’s wrong. The language is made up of dialects. Incidentally, it’s not just the `F’ that’s wrong, but also the `o’ – nobody would say `fonau’ for `whanau’, would they? The most common pronunciation around here isn’t even either of those – it’s `won-ga-newy’ – which turns a soft `ng’ sound into the break between two syllables, with a hard g as in `golf’ starting the second. And how people can, in 2009, pronounce `nui’, one of the most common particles in the langauge, as `newy’ and not be considered ignorant is beyond me.
also to jcuknz,
The thing is that in te reo MÄori, the written language is standardised across the country, while the spoken dialects are markers of regional or whakapapa identity, and like regional and family identity everywhere are an expression of pride or solidarity or mana. There’s no reason the two (spelling and speaking) should bleed over into each other except in rare cases (for instance, NgÄi Tahu v Kai Tahu). Southlanders, such as most of my father’s family, roll their rs – it’s a part of the local dialect, but that doesn’t require us to spell things `Invercarrgill’ or `Mossburrn’, which would be taken as caricaturing the accent, in the same way that `Fonganui’ is a caricature of the Whanganui-Taranaki dialect. The word, to be rendered correctly, must be spelt correctly – and then pronounced according to dialect.
This shouldn’t be a hard thing to grasp, especially to speakers of English. As an English teacher in Asia, I would begin every advanced class with a lecture on how there is no objectively correct pronunciation of English – that there are as many accents as there are groups of speakers. To illustrate this, I used the excellent George Mason University Speech Accent Archive, which presents hundreds of different – all perfectly legitimate and understandable – accents of English. The purpose of the exercise was twofold: firstly, to emphasise that students of a language should not refrain from using it until they have it perfect – because without using it, perfection is an unattainable goal; and second, to demonstrate the difference between spoken and written language. Korean, the native language of most of my students, is an almost-perfectly phonetic language – if you know the script you can read it by sight, having no knowledge of the words, and still make pretty good sense. One of the hardest habits to break in Korean English students is of spelling things phonetically. The written language of MÄori is no different in this regard. There is one correct spelling – and as many correct pronunciations as there are dialects. `Settler’ is not a dialect of MÄori, though I expect many of the people who use it will, in defence of their own ignorance, argue that it should be.
To the contrary, if it were trivia it wouldn’t be the site of such tension. The council would just say `ok, so change the spelling, then, what do we care’, or the local iwi would just let the issue die. But it’s not trivia; it’s identity politics.
On Wednesday a caller to Marcus Lush’s show expressed these sentiments more succinctly when he said `Don’t worry about the h in Wanganui; get rid of the p.’
you need to listen to the media. Since the spelling change of the river it is almost exclusively pronounced with an f sound. I expect the rest of the population will quickly follow – I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Wangavegas luminaries now use that pronunciation.
So in the quest for linguistic purity because it will have ‘meaning’ when written (even though that is in an alien language), the actual ‘proper’ local pronunciation has been fatally undermined.
It is not quite as simple as that .. why should the council waste ratepayers money changing it … user pays would have the people wishing the change to re-imburse council if not also businesses affected.
What probably would be a good solution would be to have two acceptable spellings and for the council et al to gradually replace signs, stationary etc with the new spelling over time as existing stocks are used up. Though some twits would probably use both together.
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One of the reason that english is so widely used AND that makes anyone who speaks it very lucky (easy to travel, easy to carry on business, easy to get jobs overseas, etc) is that its a constantly changing language. Any language that doesnt change slowly dies.
I am sure wanganui maori have much bigger concerns that a ‘h’ – just recall the constant gang problems that city has. Dead children, solo mothers having their house trashed becasue they wont pay protection money, etc. The reality is that another ‘h’ wont make one iota of difference to that.
And then I recall the ‘h”s that have been inserted and wonder if wakatane or wangarei or any similar place is any better for the ‘h’ – and the answer is no. Maori in those areas are as backward as ever – still killing their kids, beating up one another and going off to prison as fast as ever. No, the odd ‘h’ isnt going to make any difference.
Relevance? The question isn’t about whether the language should change, it’s about who has standing to enforce such change.
It’s not for settlers to tell them what they should be concerned about and what not – that’s the same paternalistic bullshit they’ve been subjected to for the last century and a half. There are kinds of advancement other than economic, even if you don’t value them. The main pragmatic benefit which could arise from the change is the establishment of a platform to continue strengthening relationships between settlers and tangata whenua. That’s a route to long-term improvement – economic, social and otherwise.
I work in Hong Kong, but itâ€™s more like Heung Gang in Cantonese and Xiang Gang in Putonghua. The same person uses the form appropriate to whichever language s/he is using. Similar changes occur with at least some local place names – I donâ€™t know enough to generalize confidently.
New Zealand becomes something like Niu Xilan and Xin Xilan in Cantonese and Putonghua (xin = new). Auckland is also modified. In Samoan they sound like Niu Sila and Aukilani. Should native English speakers protest at these â€˜corruptionsâ€™ or just accept that different groups of people and different languages sound different?
Iâ€™m curious to know if Maori language originalists call our founding document a tiriti or a treaty or traite (Old French) or tractatus (Latin). And what should we make of that joker called Wiremu Hopihona who signed the tiriti on behalf of Kuini Wikitoria from some place called Ingarani?
You rightly point out that there are a range of different acceptable pronunciations and transliterations of words or names across various languages. However the h issue isn’t about pronunciation – it’s about spelling, and it isn’t about transliteration – it’s about rendition in the written MÄori language. In the various examples you cite, the rendition is from one language into another, but that’s not the case in point. There is one objectively correct spelling of the MÄori word meaning `big harbour’ for which the settlement at the mouth of the river in question is named – it contains an h. The pre-European settlement on the location was named that, the European settlement established there and named `Petre’ was in 1854 renamed to the original name of the river settlement, not given a new made-up but curiously similar name in English. It was misspelt, but to parlay that into purposive rendition into another language is nothing more than post-hoc settler revisionism intended to retain control of the word, and symbolically, of the settlement.
They may, if they see fit, and if they have a claim to the words being corrupted. The stronger their claim, the more legitimacy their protestations would have. It’s not an issue of the wider `should’ – it’s for each group with a claim to cultural control to decide whether to exercise that control.
I’ve been crystal clear (in the other post) that the settlers in this case have a legitimate claim to use their spelling – just that their claim is not as strong as the tangata whenua claim. Where two claims are mutually exclusive (as they are in terms of the official rendition; but not in terms of common usage) then one must take precedence. I’m arguing that the stronger claim should take precedence.
Sorry, I seemed to have missed this comment.
What I’m arguing for is a de jure change. I don’t think anyone has a hope in hell of enforcing a de facto change, any more than they do to enforce the correct pronunciation. They’re totally different problem-sets. The change should be made at an official level to officially recognise the identity of the Whaganui tangata whenua – as I said in the other post, on the basis that goodwill ariki ki te ariki (leaders to leaders) will provide a basis for goodwill tangata ki te tangata (people to people). I certainly don’t think there’s a need to immediately change every instance of it overnight – indeed, erasing the `Wanganui’ spelling, which has a real and legitimate place in the region’s history, would be as crassly revisionist as trying to deny the `Whanganui’ spelling. The name in usage would, in principle, change over time to match the name in law, and that’s as should be.
Lew – what do you mean the ‘H’ is about spelling.
Maori never got to the point in social development of having a written language.
And why should maori – when it is written – be spelt in english. Why not french or pacific maori. What a slack arguement -“its all about spelling!!!.
If maori want to pay for the change – then Im all for it – but no you expect patepayers to pay for a change that maori never had in the first place.
In what way is it not? Have you actually read any of the other comments in this thread or the other one?
When were the MÄori? Hint: they didn’t just cease to be when the settlers arrived.
It’s not spelt in English. It’s spelt in a modified latinate character set. As are French and all the other Pacific languages. What’s your point here, other than to demonstrate that you haven’t the first clue about any of the matters you’re discussing?
Talking of slack arguments, this is about the most stupid I ever hear about MÄori development – that they should remain in the stone age since that’s where they were when the settlers arrived. Should that also be true of the Britons, who lived in woad huts and dressed in animal skins until the Romans came to rescue them from their benighted squalor? Or the Romans, who were found in similar conditions by the Greeks? Or …?
Come on, barry, lift your game above the level of `I reckon … coz …’ and we might be able to have a discussion.
Everything that Lew said just above, plus “social” is not the word you want here.
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At the risk of being labelled a redneck, racist, settler, bigot, I’d like to comment on this issue.
At Poneke’s (who’s deleted my last couple of comments) I made the observation that a name can be spelt however the owner/s of that name choose to spell it, there’s no rule in linguistics that dictates how the spelling is to fit with other words in a language.
To me, the name belongs to the residents of that city, and most of them prefer to spell it as it’s pronounced, ie without the “h”, to me there’s something undemocratic, even racist, in arguing a minority of the population should have the power to dictate to the majority on this, or any other issue.
Another argument, raised by Allan over at Poneke’s, was that “Wanganui” is simply the Anglicanised version of “Whanganui”and that such adaptation of language is common and acceptable.
I didn’t like this idea as I felt that, in New Zealand we should use English words as English words and Maori words as Maori words, that we shouldn’t be having two versions of the same word.
Then I looked at a Maori dictionary:
Motor car Motuka
I see a double standard here thats become widely accepted, English speakers are required to use and pronounce Maori words correctly, but Maori are free to loan English words and adapt and modify them as it suits them.
Your person is safe from such epithets here; your arguments not so much. But the arguments in your comment aren’t those of rednecks.
Forgive me if I provide you links to my arguments on this matter – I’ve repeated myself enough. (For new readers: I wouldn’t mind if you read the whole thread and the posts linked from it, and have actually thought about the topic before re-posing the same questions).
Two points to make here. First, who owns the name? Second, yes and no.
Second point first. If a name has a clear, explicit and undisputed meaning, then changing that name has greater implications than if it didn’t mean anything, or if the meaning was unclear. Place names with a clear and direct meaning can legitimately be changed, but only with the agreement of those who have claim to the name and the meaning embodied in it. Change without consent represents cultural domination of one group by another. Which brings me to the second point: who owns the place name? I cover this in my reply to Chris Trotter here and in a comment here.
The majority opinion is not necessarily right on matters of objective fact, of which the meaning and spelling of the name is one. The change represents the correction of a historical error – not an attempt to obliterate the past, but an attempt to right a wrong. Which is more racist: requesting politely and exercising democratic rights through the legitimate, lawful and peaceable means that the correction be made by consent of the group who made the mistake in the first place, or preventing the change on the grounds that the misspelling of a century-and-a-half is somehow more valuable than the recognition of an error which insults the very core of the original inhabitants’ identity, and doing so out of sheer bloody-mindedness and the unfounded fear of a race war?
According to the cultural, philosophical and political norms within which we operate, might does not always make right. If you would like to argue this particular set of points I have a long list of historical examples regarding Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan which I think you’d rather not find yourself agreeing with.
Assuming by `Anglicanised’ (which means `adopted into the Church of England’ you intend `Anglicised’ (which means `rendered into the English language’), this argument is the one put by Michael Laws, and is historically without foundation. I cover this topic here. As a separate matter, whether it’s common or acceptable in a given case is a matter for those with a claim to the word to decide, not something to be determined by colonial fiat.
For a start, these words are different because nobody is especially attached to them or concerned about their meaning being corrupted by usage in another language. It’s also a red herring because Wanganui has nothing whatsoever to do with transliteration or rendition of a MÄori word in English.
But even so: a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. If you knew anything much about the modern MÄori language, you wouldn’t be so inclined to presume that a dictionary (and not a very good one) is the final authority on it. There are a range of ways to adopt a word from one language to another, and the two most common are transliteration (phonetic translation), as you observe above, and semantic translation: adopting the meaning of the word by using the corresponding word or words bearing that meaning. As it happens there are semantic MÄori translations of several of the words you cite, in at least as common usage as the phonetic translations. For example:
Car (or generic vehicle) – waka
Aeroplane – wakarererangi (waka = vehicle; rere = fly; rangi = sky)
Computer – rorohiko (roro = brain; hiko = lightning/electricity)
There are more, but you get the drift.
We seem to differ on our definition of “objective” neither the spelling or the meanng are objective facts, both are matters of opinion.
2+2=4 is an objective fact, it’s the same anywhere and anywhen in this universe, the spelling of “Zealand” is dependent on opinion, ask any Dutchman how it’s spelt.
The spelling of “New Zealand” is recognised as the correct spelling today for the name of this country, but if at some time in the future (maybe if we’re over run by Dutchmen) it could be changed, and a new spelling (New Zeeland?) might be considered correct.
Spelling is always subjective, even if a particular spell is accepted by everyone at one time, it’s still subject to change over time.
Not wishing to dwell too long on this, but I’m a moral subjectivist, I agree entirely with Dr. Niclas Berggren
on the nature of morality.
The first sentence in your above paragraph is pivotal, and cultural, philosophical and political norms are also subjective, ie. subject to change, in New Zealand today a central principle is democracy, majority rule, and while it’s not perfect, no system is, and whatever is the best system is also subject to change with changing circumstances.
Andrew W writes,
Both just as correct as 2+2=4. In each there is an assumption of the base used, the writing system used, and so on.
The moment one turns an “objective fact” into a statement in a person’s brain or, worse still, to be passed between people a variety of filters, assumptions, and expectations come into play.
No Anita, go back to school, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
No matter what base you use, or your writing system, 2+2=4, the maths is not subjective. another example is that the curcumference of a circle divided by its diameter is always pi.
By the way, you’re arguing that Lew is wrong to claim that the spelling of “Wanganui” is objective.
Andrew W writes,
This many lemons plus this many lemons will always be that many lemons.
But the moment you expose that “truth” to language and communication you introduce subjectivity. “2+2=4” is a written form and its interpretation is reliant on convention, inference and individual experience.
I’m not sure I am disagreeing with Lew on this, although I’m pretty sure we disagree on many things :)
Anita, what you could do to really make your point would be to hence forth totally abandon the English language and make up a language all of your own! :)
Ok :) Although to really prove my point I’d need some other people to speak it too :)
P.S. I remembered after my last comment that the lemons in my fruit bowl are not in fact true lemons (meyer lemons are a lemon orange cross). Which is why some European lemon recipes taste wrong with lemons from the garden). Objective truth and language, never the twain shall meet :)
Neither are a matter of opinion – both are a matter of correct usage. They are objectively correct within the (necessarily subjective) bounds of the language. Your going all reductio ad absurdum and arguing that nothing outside mathematics is really objective might give you license to argue that we could spell the name of the settlement `Snugglepuffin’ and be entirely within our linguistic rights to do so, but it doesn’t make your case any more valid.
My argument regarding the spelling is formally thus:
Premiss 1: There is a standardised written language of te reo MÄori.
P2: The word in that language meaning `big harbour’ is spelt `Whanganui’. There are no acceptable alternate spellings.
P3: The Whanganui river was so named due to the geographical feature of a big harbour at its mouth.
P4: The settlement at the mouth of the Whanganui was originally called `Whanganui’ due to its location on that geographical feature.
P5: The name was not a transliteration or any other such purposive alteration of the word, and the name in fact means and always meant `big harbour’.
Conclusion: The name of the settlement, having the meaning of `big harbour’ and having not been changed, can only be correctly spelt one way: Whanganui.
Which of these premises is invalid? How does the argument not follow to the conclusion?
Disagree, for me it’s a simple rule that something is either “objective”,ie defined by nature or “subjective” ie not defined by nature.
I’ve got no problem with ‘Snugglepuffin’ if that’s what the residents of Wanganui want.
But any language is subject to evolution.
Whanganui is accepted spelling for the harbour.
Whanganui is also the accepted spelling for the river. Not really relevent; but can you prove that this was the original name for the river? Seems a bit strange naming a river “big harbour” perhaps European settlers simply named the river after the harbour?
How much of this is certain? When was the name of the settlement first written down, what was the spelling then? If the spelling of the name of the settlement was changed from Whanganui to Wanganui when did this happen and why?
I’ve seen this style of writing out one premise after another used to prove that God exists.
I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree if you think you’re reasoning is proof that opinions contrary to your own on this matter have somehow been proven wrong.
It’s not their choice.
Argument here. I already referred you to this; if you can’t or won’t rebut it, you can hardly expect me to accept your statement to the contrary.
The *only* accepted spelling.
Clutching at straws now. The original inhabitants of the area (that is; the first people who ever lived there, far as we know) are the Whanganui iwi. The fact that you don’t know anything about the topic at hand doesn’t mean that arguments put by those of us who do know about it are invalid.
I’m pretty sure the word `whanga’ appeared in Williams’ 1844 dictionary. it may have appeared earlier, but it’s irrelevant for two reasons: 1. the spelling was simply formalised according to rules which were by that time pretty well established; 2. the settlement was not renamed back to the name of the river until 1854, ten years after Williams’ publication. You’re clutching at straws again, and assuming because you don’t know something, it’s somehow doubtful.
I see. You can’t rebut it, so you’re going to argue that because you’ve seen one fallacious use of logic, all logic with which you don’t agree is fallacious. That’s not very logical.
That’s not what I think. What I’m arguing is that the decision should be made based on philosophical, historical and logical bases: that is to say, rationally, rather than on the basis of `I reckons’ and majoritarian ignorance.
My reply to your 11.47 comment is that language is conventional and that the convention in English is ‘Wanganui’, so it would make good sense to me for 2 different conventions to operate in 2 different languages. A problem arises, as I think you earlier implied, where no particular language is used, as in street signs.
Original meanings and spellings affect our conventions but do not fully determine current meanings and spellings, especially when a word moves from one language to another: some examples in English only are â€˜deerâ€™ and â€˜holiday’.
You use words such as ‘objective’ and ‘acceptable’, but these words are question-begging outside specific, defined language and social contexts, and in this situation we have different contexts as well as a disputed common context.
Having been called Rawiri and Tavita in English sentences by Maori and Pacific colleagues, who were clearly being friendly, I donâ€™t have a problem with voluntarily using conventions from one language in another. If you can persuade most people in Wanganui to switch to Whanganui in English, then the rest of NZ will follow, but when these decisions are dictated and accompanied by quite unjustifiable accusations of racism and ignorance, they are unsurprisingly resented as an undemocratic imposition.
And I should add, I appreciate your patient explanations, even while disagreeing with you.
Andrew W writes,
My educated guess is that most English speakers hear a Whanganui “wh” as “w” because it fits within the broad range of pronunciations of an English “w” not the broad range of pronunciation of the English “f”. So although a Whanganui “wh” is different from a Whanganui “w” most English speakers can’t hear it.
Firstly; most place names are the result of ‘I reckons’
Secondly; the present spelling has been accepted for (someone said recently) 155 years, that’s a reasonable amount of history,
Thirdly; “Logically” it doesn’t make sense to call the city “Wanganui” (with or without an ‘h’), because its a city, not a “great harbour”.
Finally your term “majoritarian ignorance” is the sort of elitist contempt for popular rule displayed on some unfortunate occasions in history, and all this over a single “h”! I’d hate to see your views on “majoritarian ignorance” on an issue of real importance.
Last comment first.
Separate but [in]equal? That’s the problem we have now, not the solution. You can’t legitimately argue that the river, the iwi, the district and the National Park being so called somehow makes up for the settlement being spelt wrong – especially if you accept that they mean the same thing.
I think I was pretty clear in setting the linguistic, political and socio-legal context: the one where we have a Treaty of Waitangi which grants tangata whenua control over their tÄonga, a system of laws which recognises MÄori as an official language in both its spoken and written forms, which recognises that cultural ownership should not necessarily be enforced by colonial fiat, and which decides issues like this by recourse to logic and principle. That’s not some arcane set of exceptional circumstances – it’s the foundational political and legal framework for our society. If I beg a question, it is perhaps `should we have something approximating the current system, and should we try to abide by it wherever possible?’. Feel free to argue the contra; so far, nobody coherent has in this discussion. It’s a complicated question, and highly arguable.
Nor do most people, MÄori included – but it has to be on your own terms, right? Not enforced upon you.
I don’t agree that matters like this should be determined on the basis of uninformed majority opinion rather than recourse to the principles and facts and logic of a case. I argue (though I concede it’s a value judgement) that our socio-legal system doesn’t allow for this either – after all, we don’t put each Waitangi Tribunal settlement to a referendum.
The accusation of ignorance is quite justified – most of the people whose votes are counted (and opinions heard) on this matter are simply not acquainted with its bare facts. Even many of those who ought to know better or who seem to have a considered opinion on the case (such as Chris Trotter, who I note hasn’t bothered to respond) don’t really understand the issues at stake very well. It’s my contention that the racism flows from this ignorance – not that people are ignorant because they’re racist, but that they take racist actions and support racist positions because they’re ignorant. They might not necessarily be racist, but their ignorance on such matters sure makes them seem so.
I would love nothing more than for the populace of Wanganui to be fully-informed on this matter – and I think that if they were this would be a non-issue. But what we have is a demagogue (Laws) using an ignorant populace to enshrine ignorance, to endorse misunderstanding, to normalise a gulf between peoples – and I think that’s wrong.
When initially proposed, perhaps. The choice between competing terms should be based on something more substantial.
The word was around for the preceding 600 years, and even most proponents of the present spelling admit it’s a mistake and, if it had been done correctly, it would have been done with an h. If we’re going to whip out the ruler and measure history, tangata whenua win hands-down on this count.
That would be so if the settlement into which the settlers moved wasn’t already called such, and if they hadn’t decided in 1854 to change the name back from `Petre’, as it had been called, to its original name. That’s the key: to its original name.
I understand what you’re saying here, and I must say that, fundamentally, I believe in democracy and that the collective will of the people must hold sway. That doesn’t imply that the collective will is necessarily correct or based on valid arguments – I don’t think this position is, and while people are entitled to hold an opinion, they’re not entitled to have it go uncriticised; and so much majoritarianism is founded upon the idea that opinions (no matter how absurd) are above reproach. They’re not, and democracy is all the stronger when peoples’ beliefs are called out into the open and subjected to the cool light of reason.
I’m not arguing that the name must be changed regardless of the will of the people – I’m arguing that the will of the people is wrong because it’s based bad premises and arguments, and consequently that they should change that will. I’m not arguing that the spelling of Whanganui be changed by recourse to violence, or to central government fiat, or any other such thing. As I explained in the second post, I use the word Wanganui because that’s what the town is called, although others (such as my mum) spell it Whanganui regardless, and put up with having their mail sent to Whangarei for the trouble :)
Any change won’t be valid until it’s done legitimately within the democratic structures which are properly empowered to make the change. Arguing that the majority isn’t automatically right isn’t anti-democratic, especially when that position is so copiously argued as mine is.
As for the minimisation `all over a single h’, the argument in principle is the same whether it’s an h or a genocide – the measures to be taken in practice will certainly be different (I’d argue armed revolt in response to a genocide, for instance), but the principle remains the same. Throughout this argument I’ve been careful to couch this as a matter of principle.
It’s a cheap shot to refer to Michael Laws as MicÄel Laws, but that is how I shall spell his name from now on.
He won’t know, and won’t care – but it’s all I can do.
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Response from Chris Trotter:
[text of response deleted by Lew]
Fo, if you’d bothered to read this comment thread you’d find that I already wrote a comprehensive reply to Chris’ rather ill-considered ramblings, to which he has not responded. If you’d like to participate in the discussion, please do so – but don’t just copy and paste others’ work, let us know what you think.
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