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New Zealand’s input into the latest Hollywood blockbusterAvatar is well documented but few people know that the alien language spoken in the movie is based on Māori.
Avatar director James Cameron has revealed that he used Māori language sounds he heard in New Zealand to create the language spoken by the blue alien movie stars.
New Zealand technology and expertise developed the new generation 3D special effects for the phenomenally successful movie that was partly shot here. Many Kiwi designers, cast and crew were involved in the production.
Cameron told a London press conference that development of the blue aliens’ language started off innocently enough as he was writing the script.
"I came up with some place names and some character names and so on. You know, I was just sort of free associating, and I had been to New Zealand a few years ago and really liked the sound of the Māori language and some of the Polynesian form, so I put that in."
He then used a language expert from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, to mould the alien language, mixing Māori with languages from Europe and Africa.
Box office hit
Avatar has been a massive hit at the box office grossing US$1.6 billion (NZ$2.16b) worldwide to date and $10 million in New Zealand. It has also won best film drama and director categories at the 2010 Golden Globe awards.
The use of Māori was welcomed by the Māori faculty dean at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Hana O'Regan.
"That is quite impressive. I am not too possessive over the language being used for something like that, which is something that some people might get disturbed about," O'Regan said.
Te reo Māori
Te reo Māori (the Māori language) is enjoying a revival in New Zealand thanks to a number of government and private initiatives. While it has always been integrated into the Kiwi way of life, the language was in danger of being lost with many of the fluent speaking older generation (kaumatua) dying out.
Today Māori is taught in schools from pre-school to university level and the use of the language continues to develop with more than 23% of Māori people now fluent speakers.
Every year New Zealand celebrates Māori Language Week which provides added awareness of the importance of the language as an intrinsic part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique culture and history.
As part of its 20-year strategy, New Zealand’s Māori Language Commission - Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori - is focusing on promoting te reo Māori by the whole family or whanau at home.
Other recent initiatives are the establishment of a Legal Māori Archive which is 14,000 pages of 19th century documents seen as the first step towards New Zealand’s first Legal Māori Dictionary.
Google Māori was launched in 2008, and in 2009 Telecom New Zealand installed it along with 100 Māori words of predictive text in their new third generation phones as part of Māori Language Week.
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