Free app for learning Moriori released to help revive endangered native language

An app providing an introduction to ta rē Moriori - the native language of the Moriori people - has been released in a bid to revive the endangered language.

The Ta Rē Moriori Language App was released on Tuesday by the Hokotehi Moriori Trust, an organisation representing the indigenous people of New Zealand's Chatham Islands (Rēkohu), located off the east coast of the South Island.

The free app provides an introduction to basic Moriori language and contains a beginner's guide to pronunciation, chants or prayer (karakii) and songs (rongo). It will eventually be developed to include access to a Moriori dictionary and phrasebook.

Although ta rē Moriori is most closely related to te reo Māori, it is its own distinctive language - and is not just a dialect of te reo. It has a similar grammatical structure to most Polynesian languages, especially to languages spoken in Tahiti, the Austral Islands and the Marquesan group.

Despite its similarities with te reo Māori, there are also significant differences in regards to words (tukupa), pronunciation and consonant sounds.

There are currently no fluent speakers of ta rē Moriori, according to Hokotehi. There are also no archival sound recordings to better understand the ways in which it was spoken and pronounced. 

The organisation is instead relying on archived texts, compiled in the late 1800s, as the foundation of its mission to revive the language. The texts feature word lists, chants and karakii, Hokotehi said. 

Ta rē Moriori is currently not recognised as one of New Zealand's official languages, which include English, Māori and New Zealand sign language.

A Moriori family photographed in the 1800s.
A Moriori family photographed in the 1800s. Photo credit: File

"We believe that language and identity are inextricable and therefore our distinct identity as Moriori is strongly embedded in reviving and speaking our own language," Hokotehi said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The app is aimed at anyone wanting to learn more about Moriori language and to provide helpful starting points for Hokotehi members wishing to become more proficient in their own language."

The organisation said it was proud that a Moriori language resource is now available on the market. 

"Hokotehi aspires to achieve recognition of the distinctiveness of Moriori and make it available to anyone interested in learning it and being part of its revival."

The organisation has also developed a language strategy (Homouri Ta Rē Moriori) with support from Te Mātāwai, an independent entity set up under the Māori Language Act to promote the use of te reo in homes and the community.

The strategy contains a 10-year plan for the development of further teaching and learning resources.

As of the 2013 census, there were approximately 700 people who identify as Moriori living in New Zealand. 

The app is currently only compatible with Android phones and can be accessed worldwide via the Google Play Store. An iPhone-friendly version will be available soon through the App Store.