An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction.
A country's official language (or languages) refers to the language(s) used within its government and legal system. New Zealand claims to have three official languages – English, Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.
English is not currently declared to be an official language, but is the main language of communication and as such acts as a de facto official language. Te Reo Māori (since 1987) and New Zealand Sign Language (since 2006) have been formally designated as ‘official languages’ by Acts of Parliament and have special status under the law.
People have the right to speak in Te Reo Māori or New Zealand Sign Language and they can be used in legal proceedings with interpreters.
New Zealand English
New Zealand is home to a distinctive dialect of English, commonly referred to as New Zealand English, which (like all languages) continues to evolve. It is the most widely spoken language in New Zealand with 96.1% of the population fluent in English.
It is also the language commonly used in parliament, the courts, in the education system and by the public sector.
Fluency in English is necessary for full societal participation and all New Zealand residents ought to have access to learning advanced levels of English.
Te Reo Māori
- Te Reo Māori is currently spoken by less than 5% of the New Zealand population. Despite the low number of fluent Te Reo Māori speakers, official status is an essential step towards preserving the language and Māori culture
- Te Reo Māori is taught in most schools and there are te reo Māori immersion educational facilities such as Kohanga Reo
- While the number of speakers of Te Reo Māori is now increasing (younger people are more likely to speak Te Reo Māori than older people), much remains to be done to secure its future as a living language
New Zealand Sign Language
Sign Language is a combination of hand shapes, facial expressions and body movements. It is not simply signed representations of spoken words. There are hundreds of sign-based languages in use around the world.
New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is the natural language of the Deaf community in New Zealand - it reflects the country's culture and includes signs for Maori terminology and concepts unique to New Zealand – it is not a universal deaf language. NZSL is used daily by more than 20,000 New Zealanders.