Languages of New Zealand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Languages of New Zealand
OfficialTe reo Māori (3.7%)
New Zealand Sign Language
MainNew Zealand English (96.1%)
IndigenousTe reo Māori
ImmigrantSamoan (2.2%)
Hindi (1.7%)
Mandarin Chinese (1.3%)
French (1.2%)
SignedNew Zealand Sign Language
Keyboard layout
Source2013 New Zealand census[1]

English is the predominant language and a de facto official language of New Zealand. Almost the entire population speak it either as native speakers or proficiently as a second language.[1] The New Zealand English dialect is most similar to Australian English in pronunciation, with some key differences. The Māori language of the indigenous Māori people was made the first de jure official language in 1987. New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has been an official language since 2006. Many other languages are used by New Zealand's minority ethnic communities.

Official languages[edit]

New Zealand has three official languages: English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.[1][2]


English is spoken by 96.1 percent of the population.[1] It has long been the predominant language and the de facto official language.[3] It is the primary language used in parliament, government, the courts, and the education system.[4] Its official status has been presumed and is not codified in statute.[5] In 2018, New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell introduced a bill to parliament to statutorily recognise English as an official language.[6][7]

New Zealand English is mostly non-rhotic with the exception of the "southern burr" found principally in Southland and parts of Otago.[8] It is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the two accents apart.[9] In New Zealand English the short i (as in kit) has become centralised, leading to the shibboleth fish and chips sounding like "fush and chups" to the Australian ear.[10] The words rarely and really, reel and real, doll and dole, pull and pool, witch and which, and full and fill can sometimes be pronounced as homophones.[11][12][8] Some New Zealanders pronounce the past participles grown, thrown and mown using two syllables, whereas groan, throne and moan are pronounced as one syllable.[13] New Zealanders often reply to a question or emphasise a point by adding a rising intonation at the end of the sentence.[14] New Zealand English has also borrowed words and phrases from Māori, such as haka (war dance), kia ora (a greeting), mana (power or prestige), puku (stomach), taonga (treasure) and waka (canoe).[15][16]


A bilingual sign outside the National Library of New Zealand uses the contemporary Māori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa.

The Māori language of the indigenous Māori people has been an official language by statute since 1987, with rights and obligations to use it defined by the Maori Language Act 1987.[17] It can, for example, be used in legal settings, such as in court, but proceedings are recorded in English only, unless private arrangements are made and agreed by the judge.

An Eastern Polynesian language, Māori is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori.[18] After the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their language in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas.[19] As a consequence of this, many Māori came to view te reo Māori as a language without purpose and chose not to teach their children. Since the 1970s, the language has undergone a process of revitalisation and is spoken by a larger number of people.[20][21] Of the 148,395 people (or 3.7 percent of the total New Zealand population) who claimed they could hold a conversation in Māori in 2013, 84.5 percent identified as Māori.[1][22] No adult Māori alive in New Zealand today does not also speak English.[23]

New Zealand Sign Language[edit]

People who can use New Zealand Sign Language, 2001, 2006 and 2013 censuses

New Zealand Sign Language, the main language of the deaf community in New Zealand, has been an official language by statute since 2006, by virtue of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.[24][25] It is legal to use it and have access to it in legal proceedings and government services. In 2013, 20,235 people reported the ability to use New Zealand Sign Language.[1]

Immigrant languages[edit]

New Zealand has immigrants from European, Asian and Pacific Island countries who have brought their languages with them. According to Ethnologue (as of 2017), the largest groups are Samoan (86,400), Hindi (66,300), Mandarin Chinese (52,300), French (49,100) and Yue Chinese (44,600).[26] In the 2013 census, about 87,534 people did not include English as one of their spoken languages.[1]

The number and proportion of multilingual (people who can speak two or more languages) has continued to increase since the 2001 census. In 2013, the number of multilingual people was 737,910, or 18.6 percent of the population. The highest numbers of multilingual speakers lived in the Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury regions.[1]


In the 2013 census, the following languages were reportedly spoken by more than 0.1 percent of the population.[27] People could report more than one language, therefore percentages do not add up to 100. Statistics necessarily exclude unusable responses and those who spoke no language (e.g. too young to talk).

Language Number Percentage Change
English (New Zealand English) 3,819,969 96.14 0.24
Māori 148,395 3.73 −0.37
Samoan 86,403 2.17 −0.06
Hindi 66,309 1.67 0.51
Mandarin Chinese 52,263 1.32 0.24
French 49,125 1.24 −0.16
Yue Chinese (Cantonese) 44,625 1.12 −0.03
Chinese (not further defined) 42,753 1.08 0.09
German 36,642 0.92 −0.06
Tongan 31,839 0.80 0.03
Tagalog 29,016 0.73 0.40
Afrikaans 27,387 0.69 0.14
Spanish 26,979 0.68 0.12
Korean 26,373 0.66 −0.04
Dutch 24,006 0.60 −0.10
New Zealand Sign Language 20,235 0.51 −0.12
Japanese 20,148 0.51 −0.04
Punjabi 19,752 0.50 0.22
Gujarati 17,502 0.44 0.03
Arabic 10,746 0.27 0.01
Russian 9,426 0.24 0.03
Italian 8,214 0.21 −0.01
Cook Islands Māori 8,124 0.20 −0.05
Thai 7,599 0.19 0.03
Tamil 6,840 0.17 0.02
Malaysian 6,789 0.17 −0.01
Khmer 6,729 0.17 0.01
Fijian 6,273 0.16 0.03
Vietnamese 5,376 0.14 0.03
Serbo-Croatian 5,349 0.13 −0.03
Sinhala 5,220 0.13 0.03
Min Chinese 5,166 0.13 −0.02
Persian 5,061 0.13 0.02
Urdu 5,046 0.13 0.02
Bahasa Indonesia 4,881 0.12 0.00
Niuean 4,548 0.11 −0.03
Malayalam 4,365 0.11 0.05
None (e.g. young children) 67,509 1.70 −0.27

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity – Languages spoken". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  2. ^ Bardsley, Dianne (7 October 2018). "English language in New Zealand - Characteristics of New Zealand English". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 28 November 2017. English, te reo Māori (the Māori language) and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand.
  3. ^ New Zealand Government (21 December 2007). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Fifth Periodic Report of the Government of New Zealand (PDF) (Report). p. 89. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015. In addition to the Māori language, New Zealand Sign Language is also an official language of New Zealand. The New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 permits the use of NZSL in legal proceedings, facilitates competency standards for its interpretation and guides government departments in its promotion and use. English, the medium for teaching and learning in most schools, is a de facto official language by virtue of its widespread use. For these reasons, these three languages have special mention in the New Zealand Curriculum.
  4. ^ "New Zealand's official languages". Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  5. ^ Walters, Laura (16 February 2018). "Analysis: Why English does not need to be made an official language". Stuff. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  6. ^ "NZ First submits Bill for English to be recognised as official language". Newshub. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  7. ^ "NZ First Bill: English set to become official". Scoop. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 605.
  9. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon 2008, p. 14.
  10. ^ Crystal 2003.
  11. ^ Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 582, 589, 592, 610.
  12. ^ Trudgill, Peter and Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th ed. London: Arnold., p 24.
  13. ^ Kortmann et al. 2004, p. 611.
  14. ^ Crystal 2003, p. 355.
  15. ^ Bardsley, Dianne (September 2013). "English language in New Zealand – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Māori Words used in New Zealand English - Māori". Māori Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  17. ^ "Waitangi Tribunal claim – Māori Language Week". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. July 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  18. ^ "Austronesian languages". Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  19. ^ Phillips, Jock (March 2009). "The New Zealanders – Bicultural New Zealand". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 January 2011.
  20. ^ "Māori Language Week – Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  21. ^ Squires, Nick (May 2005). "British influence ebbs as New Zealand takes to talking Maori". The Telegraph. Great Britain.
  22. ^ "Māori language speakers". Statistics New Zealand. 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  23. ^ Keegan, Peter (5 June 2018). "FAQ about the Māori Language". Māori Language Information. Retrieved 4 July 2018. All (adult) Māori speakers can also speak English.
  24. ^ "New Zealand Sign Language Bill 2006". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  25. ^ Governor-General gives assent to Sign Language Bill, Press Release: Governor General, 10 April 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2006.
  26. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2017). "Languages of New Zealand". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 2 September 2017.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  27. ^ "2013 Census totals by topic". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.


  • Crystal, David (2003). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521530330.
  • Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Gordon, Elizabeth (2008). Dialects of English: New Zealand English. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748625291.
  • Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar; Burridge, Kate; Mesthrie, Rajend; Upton, Clive (2004). A handbook of varieties of English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-017532-5.

External links[edit]