We are learning Teeline shorthand in journo school at the moment, and it’s pretty much totally bewildering most of the class including me.
How useful shorthand might be for journalists has been debated fairly recently – from being passionately defended by Dave Lee, to having the relevance of teaching it here in Aotearoa queried by Martin Hirst at AUT, to other journos around the world having their say.
I’m interested though in the issue of language itself. Teeline shorthand removes vowels in the middle of words, leaving skeletons of consonants. How does this work for Maori words, where generally speaking vowels are more frequent and possibly more crucial to meaning?
The answer is not very well – it’s an English system based on norms of the English language.
The other thing Teeline does is shorten words by using sounds – so you write “a” for “au” at the beginnings of words; “a” for “ay” and so on. That doesn’t work for Maori, where vowel sounds are very different from English. Whanau for example – which in te reo isn’t ‘far-now’ but ‘far-no’.
Those of you wanting to hear the difference check this out from Moana and the Moahunters:
Because Teeline shorthand doesn’t really work for Maori words, it is not really appropriate for New Zealand, where Maori has been a state recognised “official” language since 1987, and in use of course for hundreds of years before that. Teeline doesn’t incorporate rules that will work for te reo – so us NZ journos are left with a monocultural, colonial tool which will make reporting on much of NZ life difficult.
Is there another way to approach this that isn’t just ‘add a few bits of te reo and stir’?
Well, checking out NZ’s third official way of communicating, NZ Sign Language, it seems there might be. There are many Maori signs and translations to express Maori words and concepts in NZSL and:
This sets apart New Zealand Sign Language to its ‘cousins’, Australian and British Sign Languages. The signs for Māori concepts are unique because they are expressed in a slightly different way than the common NZSL structure, they incorporate tikianga Māori way of saying things.
Come on you shorthand teachers out there – how about finding a way to create a language which belongs here in Aotearoa – rather than back in England. Doesn’t our mana demand it?