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Te Reo Māori: indigenous language acquisition in the context of New Zealand English*



This study assessed the status of te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, in the context of New Zealand English. From a broadly representative sample of 6327 two-year-olds (Growing Up in New Zealand), 6090 mothers (96%) reported their children understood English, and 763 mothers (12%) reported their children understood Māori. Parents completed the new MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory short forms for te reo Māori (NZM: CDI sf) and New Zealand English (NZE: CDI sf). Mothers with higher education levels had children with larger vocabularies in both te reo Māori and NZ English. For English speakers, vocabulary advantages also existed for girls, first-borns, monolinguals, those living in areas of lower deprivation, and those whose mothers had no concerns about their speech and language. Because more than 99% of Māori speakers were bilingual, te reo Māori acquisition appears to be occurring in the context of the acquisition of New Zealand English.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Elaine Reese, University of Otago – Psychology, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. tel: 64 (03) 479 8441; fax: 64 (03) 479 8335; e-mail:


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We are grateful to the whānau in the Growing Up in New Zealand study. Thanks also to Philip Dale and the MacArthur-Bates Advisory Board for granting permission to adapt the Communication Development Inventory, and to Tom Klee and Stephanie Stokes for their assistance in adapting the long form of the New Zealand CDI. Funders include the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, University of Auckland, Social Policy and Evaluation Research Unit (Superu), formerly Families Commission, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, Sport New Zealand (previously Sport and Recreation New Zealand), New Zealand Police, Te Puni Kokiri, Housing New Zealand, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Department of Corrections, and the Mental Health Commission.



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