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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Current: official and trade

Current: official and trade

With the wave of immigration from the Pacific Islands in the 1960s and early 1970s, successive governments began to provide funding for translations of material into the languages of these new immigrants. Pamphlets and information sheets were published by many government departments, primarily in the areas of electoral information, housing, law, social welfare and health. The Department of Māori and Island Affairs was responsible for several in the early 1970s, such as 'Life in New Zealand' in Samoan and Tokelauan. When Pacific Island Affairs was removed from the functions of the Department this work was taken over by other agencies.

The Housing Corporation was especially active, producing several series of pamphlets informing tenants of their rights and responsibilities. The Department of Social Welfare published brochures on benefits, and the Justice Department produced material on disputes tribunals, bail, parole, and information for prisoners. Every three years parliamentary election booklets and posters were produced to inform electors of the arrangements for voting. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs published a comprehensive set of pamphlets in 1990 defining such terms as layby and door-to-door selling. The major languages used were Samoan, Tongan and Cook Islands Māori, with Tokelauan, Niuean and Fijian also appearing frequently.

After 1990, cuts in public sector spending were reflected in a sharp decline in the production of such material. Notable exceptions have been information about the elections and the census. In particular, explanatory material about the referendum on changes to the voting system in 1995 was published in the major Polynesian languages. The Statistics Department has also regularly produced translations for its ongoing surveys of New Zealand households. Another main area has been health, with a number of campaigns on childhood diseases, AIDS, vaccination and so on.

It has been rare for the private sector to initiate publications of translated material. However, some interesting initiatives by non-government agencies include a 1988 SPCA pamphlet on pets in New Zealand, and the New Zealand Scouts' Association description of scouting in Western Samoa (1986), both in Samoan. Trade union organisations have occasionally put out material such as glossaries of relevant terminology. The Pacific Islanders' Educational Resource Centre in Auckland published two sets of pamphlets in 1978-89 on 'Buying a Home' and 'Mother's Jobs'.

The Tokelaus have received special attention under New Zealand government administration and there has been a major investment in communicating in Tokelauan with the population of the atolls. A quarterly newsletter Te Vakai Tokelau (in both Tokelauan and English) was published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1976 and then by the Office of Tokelauan Affairs. The State Services Commission also put out regular reports on the Tokelauan public service, including a guide to dealing with the Tokelau public service titled Ko te Vaka Tokelau (1987) which uses the analogy of a traditional outrigger canoe to represent the structure of the administrative system.

One project stands out. Since 1988 the Law Faculty of Victoria University of Wellington, with funding from the United Nations Development Programme, has been publishing a comprehensive series of translations of Tokelauan legislation, ranging from shipping, post office and customs regulations to immigration, plants, and the law of the sea. This translation work was carried out by Hosea Kirifi, Special Projects Officer for the Tokelau Administration.

Because virtually all the material referred to is ephemeral in form, it is poorly documented and difficult to track down, although some is included in bibliographies of Samoan and Tokelauan material (see section below 'Sources and resources'). To date there is no record of any research into these Pacific Island publications, but King's 1996 conference paper discusses aspects of translation work in this context, including Māori.

Most material referred to was translated by the Department of Internal Affairs during the mid 1970s to mid 1980s, and more recently by the New Zealand Translation Centre Ltd, a Wellington-based company which holds a large collection of translated public information in Pacific Island languages.

Current trends, including the reduced role of government in many aspects of New Zealand life, seem to indicate that the future emphasis will be on the maintenance and survival of the Polynesian languages through education, and that the era of large scale publicly-funded translation into these languages is over. As if to underline this tendency, Jeffrey Waite's Aoteareo, a 1992 national language policy document, recommended that priority be given to 'English as a second language' programmes for immigrants ahead of providing funds for translation and interpreting services.