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Ministry of Education.

Exemplar C - Achieved

Language surrounding Waitangi Day celebrations

Waitangi Day is an important day historically for New Zealand as it is the day on which we commemorate the signing of the treaty of Waitangi by the Maori tribes and the Crown. In recent years there has been quite a bit of conflict surrounding Waitangi day. This has centred around the fact that Maori groups want all of New Zealand to have a greater awareness of Maoritanga and an acknowledgement that Maori are the tangata whenua. Conflicts arose in the eighties and nineties, and in 1997 the celebration of Waitangi Day did not take place at Waitangi but in Wellington. I chose to analyse speeches made by Governors General on that day: Viscount Cobham (1959), Sir Keith Holyoake (1980), Sir Michael Hardie Boyes (1997) and Dame Silvia Cartwright (2003) to find out what language features have been used, how language has changed over the years on Waitangi Day and how language has been used to mould what people think of the treaty. 

The two most recent speeches have a Maori greeting at the beginning:. Dame Silvia Cartwright greets her audience in Maori and then in English: "Nga manuhiri tuarangi, nga rangatira ma...../ Visitors from afar, respected guests...".Similarly, Sir Michael Hardie Boyes open with a bi-lingual greeting: "Kei te mana whenua.../ I have extended greetings to the people of this place...". It is interesting to note that the earlier two speeches do not have a bi-lingual greeting. The use of the bi-cultural greeting in recent years is an attempt to persuade audiences, particularly Maori, of New Zealand's recognition of both cultures. 

A significant feature which appears to be common to all the speeches is the use of abstract nouns. Cobham talks of Maori serving "the Crown with loyalty and distinction." Holyoake talks of the Maori chiefs who "declared their hopes and aspirations for the future way of life.." Boyes says that the treaty ‘was signed...in good faith and good hope." Cartwright speaks of those "who wish to help it (NZ) remain a place of peace and beauty." The effect of this repeated language use is to make those who are listening see the treaty as a something good and worth preserving and to give audiences an impression that it is a noble document which has the best interests of all New Zealanders at heart. 

Euphemistic language is a strong feature of these speeches. Cobham says that the treaty "..brought together two fine races who settled down together to achieve full nationhood ..." Holyoake says that "...race relations in New Zealand has at times encountered periods of difficulty and stress." He continues to say that ‘..in early years....there were many differences.." Boyes refers to "...the taking of land and the suppression of culture.. and goes on to say that "...Maori culture was almost extinguished." Cartwright puts a positive ‘spin' on New Zealand's history when she says "In recent years our country has matured significantly." It is obviously important on such occasions to downplay existing conflicts. 

The speakers also use metaphorical language to give a strong sense of occasion to the speeches. Cartwright talks of New Zealand society as "a tapestry" and the treaty partners "..are represented by the predominant colours and textures." Boyes uses a simile to describe the treaty: ‘...as with marriage vows.. the exchange of promises at the formalisation of a relationship is...the beginning of an ever-growing commitment..". Holyoake refers to Waitangi as "..the birthplace of our nation.." Cobham talks of the celebrations as a stage " ..in the long and coloured pageant of English colonial history." Such poetic language would have the effect of making the celebration seem important and of manipulating audiences into honouring the occasion. 

The treaty of Waitangi has increasingly become a context which has the potential to split audiences. Quite clearly these speeches have used language intended to play down conflicts and to give importance to the treaty. The most recent speeches use language techniques which attempt to minimise the risk of conflicts occurring as a result of what happens on Waitangi day as well as to try to convince New Zealanders that we are one people. 


Boyes, Sir Michael Hardie, (6 Feb 1997) Waitangi Day Commemoration, published on http://www.gg.govt.nz/media 

Cartwright, Dame Silvia, (6 Feb 2003) Address to guests at a Government house reception to mark Waitangi day, published on  http://www.gg.govt.nz/media

Cobham Viscount, (6 Feb 1959), Treaty of Waitangi commemoration, published on http://www.gg.govt.nz/media

Holyoake, Sir Keith (6 Feb 1980) Waitangi Day Commemorations, published on http://www.gg.govt.nz/media

Published on: 08 Dec 2010