Mind your languagesby Hamish Keith
Cultural diversity is something to embrace
Grey Power, on the other hand, thinks more than two ethnicities is one confusion too far. It would like to see a limit to what some members see as an unfettered flood of jibber-jabber – a language test at border controls at Albany and the Bombay Hills. This is an ancient tale.
I have never seen the point of the Tower of Babel story. According to Genesis, survivors of the Great Flood all washed up in the land of Shinar. They all spoke the same language. They had a quick get-together and decided to build a fabulous new city with a great big tower – a convention centre was planned for later. They made their bricks and got to work. God spotted them at it and was not pleased. Like some celestial Earthquake Minister, He descended from above and confounded their plan. They were chased away from Babel and obliged to speak different languages. By this simple intervention – by chance or design – the Almighty set in train countless millennia of war, ethnic cleansing, diaspora, holocaust, massacre and every other kind of lethal mischief a confounded humanity could devise. If there was any reason to this, it escapes me.
Rational or not, we are stuck with this heavenly mess. The Royal Society thinks we should make the most of it and adopt a national strategy for language. Grey Power, along with many monolingual citizens who are neither grey nor powerful but almost certainly white, think sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting “Happy Place, Happy Place” might make it all go away.
Of the two, the Royal Society’s argument is the most compelling. We live in a post-Babel society. It is not a reality such artificial constructs as biculturalism can do much to accommodate. If there were ever any truth in that idea, it is not one that does anything to value the bits in-between – the true drivers of an evolving, vigorous multicultural society.
The Royal Society is right to define a national drive towards bilingualism as an essential first step. But along with that we need to pick away at the ingrained myth that the national culture is some temple of unchanging identity and untouchable sacred cows. New Zealand is a land of travellers. We all came from somewhere else or value ancestors who did. We have become the accumulation of all the diverse stuff those travellers brought with them and bring with them still.
No forecaster, including the Prime Minister, predicted her pregnancy. I wish her well. Every Mom knows how challenging it will be.Read more
New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.Read more
For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.Read more
More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?Read more
A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.Read more
There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?Read more
The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.Read more