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Older People More Likely to Retain First Language

Language Retention in New Zealand: 2004 ¡X 2 November 2004

Older People More Likely to Retain 'First Language'

Young people aged 0-24 years are less likely than their older counterparts to speak their ethnic "first language', according to the new Statistics New Zealand publication Concerning Language.

The report examines the ability of 15 ethnic groups in New Zealand to speak their first languages. Concerning Language investigates the relationship between language retention and selected factors (such as age, birthplace, years since arrival in New Zealand and religious affiliation), using data from the 2001 Census of Population and Dwellings. The term "first language' is used in the report to describe the proportion of people who are able to speak a language associated with a given ethnic group, other than English.

The report shows that some ethnic groups are at greater risk of not maintaining their first languages than others. Among those, Niuean is one of the most at-risk languages. Just over a quarter (26 percent) of Niueans said they could speak Niuean in 2001, but only 13 percent of Niueans aged 0-24 years could speak their first language. The Korean group has a relatively high proportion of people (81 percent) speaking a first language in New Zealand, with 78 percent of Koreans aged 0-24 years able to have a conversation in Korean about everyday things. Birthplace was among the most significant factors influencing the proportion of people speaking their first language.

Analysis of overseas-born 10 to 24-year-olds revealed that both age at arrival and length of residence in New Zealand influence language retention. Older members of the 10 to 24-year-old group who had lived in New Zealand for 20-24 years were less likely to speak their first language than younger members of the group who had lived in New Zealand for less than five years.

Language retention is also influenced by the number of ethnicities reported by respondents. People who reported a single ethnicity were more likely to speak a first language than people who claimed two or more ethnicities.

People who reported having a religious affiliation were generally more likely to speak a first language than those who did not report having one. Analysis of household language retention showed that New Zealand-born children were more likely to speak their group's first language when living in households containing more than one adult who could also speak that language. The presence of more than one overseas-born adult was also a significant factor.

Concerning Language aims to inform public discussion on language retention issues in New Zealand and make statistical information on this topic more readily available to interested groups. The report is available on the Statistics New Zealand website.

Brian Pink Government Statistician


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