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The Legal Māori Project: Te Reo Deal

MEDIA RELEASE
28 May 2008
The Legal Māori Project: Te Reo Deal

A senior lecturer in law at Victoria University has attracted funding worth $673,000 for a research project that aims to produce New Zealand’s first Legal Māori dictionary.

Māmari Stephens has received a $5,000 New Researcher’s Fund grant, $20,000 from the University Research Fund, $55,000 from the Contestable Fund and $593,000 from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology – the first time a project from the Law School has been funded by the Foundation.

“We have a bilingual legal past – at least until the late 1800s – but much of it is hidden in the Alexander Turnbull Library,” says Stephens. “Early Acts of Parliament and many other legal documents were translated into Māori – mainly because Māori became a written language very early on."

The first stage of the research is gathering and accessing any texts in Māori from the 19 th , 20 th and 21 st centuries about any legal topic. The task is then to analyse the frequency of terms and most frequently used words, which form the basis of a lexicon from which the dictionary is written.

The second stage involves seeing where gaps exist and what new terms might need to be made. A steering group which includes Māori language experts, legal academics and members of the judiciary has been formed to inform this process and develop principles for the adoption of new terms.

A third stage is the compilation of the dictionary and putting it together in a useable form. “The aim of the project is to have work that is user friendly and helpful to those working in areas involving Māori language. This is an ever increasing sphere – the Māori Affairs Select Committee, for example, now have their reports in Māori as well as English,” says Stephens.

“It is my sincere wish that this project results in a key resource that not only allows us to understand our bilingual legal history, but provide a frame of reference for the future."


ENDS

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