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NZSL recognition a pointless measure

I find it highly ironic that the National Party, who so vehemently swore to stamp out political correctness, supported the New Zealand Sign Language Bill to its enactment. The sign language’s recognition as New Zealand’s third official language will undoubtedly either have no true effect or purpose at all, or it will catalyse an ever-increasing trend to push the public out of its way to accommodate another minority group.

The official recognition of the Māori language is not the same issue. The Māori language is the oldest language on New Zealand soil, and it can only make sense that all immigrants thereafter have a basic understanding, at least, of the language. The parallels to which Karen Pointon refers, namely oppression of language and oppression of culture, do not stand against the fundamental fact that Māori is the indigenous language here, and that quite simply, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is not.

NZSL is not, as the recognition would imply, the third most spoken language in New Zealand. Samoan, French, Cantonese and German all come before it. Shouldn’t, then, these languages be recognised as official languages? Cantonese, after all, has been here since the first Chinese immigrants came in the late 19th century, while NZSL was still closely tied to its British counterpart. Anyway, shouldn’t the government recognise New Zealand’s cultural diversity in this respect? Of course not. Those four languages, and all others, are not long-standing or main languages in New Zealand.

I do not mean to say that NZSL deserves no recognition at all. It does. The deaf community should have some recognised way of expressing themselves. But recognising it as an official language, on par with English and Māori, is going too far. It cannot be expected of the general public to have a decent awareness of this method of communication, let alone to accept it as part of them and their country. Rather, if need be, it should be recognised as the official sign language. This is not over-complicating things. It is describing things as they are.

To simply let it be an official language is a notion of the exact type Don Brash swore to stamp out. I find myself, the precise contrary to an Act Party supporter, in agreement with them on this issue. It merely gives another minority a legal previlege, one unique to them and not to users of other, more or equally common languages, one that wishes to separate them as a culture but integrate them as a language. There are other, better ways of accommodating the rights of the deaf; ways that, unlike this one, will not undermine what an official language is.

Related Links

  • Act Party: "Sign Language Bill bad in principle", 18 July 2005
  • TVNZ: "Recognition for sign language", 6 April 2006
  • NZ Herald: "Sign language gets official status", 6 April 2006
  • Wikipedia: New Zealand Sign Language
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