The Right to Language and its Contemporary Significance for New Zealand
The right of linguistic minorities to speak their own language in community with other members of their group (the right to language) is deserving of specific attention for two reasons. Firstly, language is the currency of communication and one of the key indicia of cultural identity; and secondly, ensuring minorities have a secure place within a State is pivotal to promoting peace and stability within a nation. There are three sources of the right to language in New Zealand : the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the Treaty of Waitangi (for the Maori and Moriori languages). The right to language protects against both direct action by the State to limit linguistic minorities' use of their language. and State neglect of a minority language. This paper explores the right to language in the New Zealand context including the sources and elements of the right to language; the application of the right to the Maori language (and what lessons can be learned from this experience for the Moriori language); and two modes of revitalisation of minority languages: official recognition and television broadcasting. The paper observes that while the steps to improve language acquisition and use of the Maori language are admirable and need to continue to secure a meaningful place for that language in New Zealand, the Moriori language is in serious jeopardy and in need of urgent attention. Finally, the paper examines whether the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi may provide sound guidance for the consideration of the place of minority languages in policy and law making in New Zealand.