Forget Solomon. Maurice Williamson has just displayed the wisdom of Kang.

Until The Wire came along, I thought The Simpsons was about as good as TV could get. And one of the all-time best episodes of The Simpsons (imho) is the 1996 Halloween special, "Treehouse of Horror VII".

In it, two aliens kidnap Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, assume their form and proceed to contest the 1996 Presidential election. During the course of the campaign, one alien (Kang) is making a speech in which he declares: "Abortions for all!" Half the crowd boos. "Very well then. Abortions for none!" Half the crowd boos. After a moment of reflection, Kang announces: "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!" And the crowd cheers in unison.

This neat solution to an intractable problem came back to me when I heard what Maurice Williamson's decision was on the vexed question of "Wanganui" or "Whanganui". Easy, he says. It'll officially be given both names, and people can choose to use whichever they want. A quick dust of the hands, and the problem is solved.

Except, how is what he has announced any different from a decision that W(h)anganui will officially be known as Whanganui alone? I posted on this point back in September, so let me quickly recap the legal effect of giving a place an official name. Basically, such official names "must be used in all official documents."Official documents" then mean "a published document created by a public office or by a local authority in the course of business", or privately published "geographic and scientific publications and manuscripts" and "publications intended for travellers or tourists".

So, making both Wanganui and Whanganui official names simply means either may be used in an "official document". Everyone else can keep on calling the place whatever they like - just as they could have done whatever the Minister had decided.

But. And there is a but. Maurice Williamson also made it clear that "Crown agencies will be expected to move to the name Whanganui over time." So central government is going to begin using Whanganui in all its "signage, publications and other official documents" (albeit "only when the[se are] ready to be replaced.")

And you can bet that as central government references to Whanganui begin to predominate in the next few years, those producing material for travellers and tourists are going to follow suit - least they start to confuse German backpackers looking for the "Wanganui" in their guidebook and finding only roadsigns to "Whanganui".

So the only group likely to be left holding out is the Wanganui council. The effect of Maurice Williamson's decision is that it can still keep on sending out letters and other publications to residents proudly speaking of the good things they are doing for Wanganui, without thereby breaching the  New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008. Until, with time, they are the last organisation left doing so.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with taking a pragmatic middle ground that "solves" a problem in a way that leaves everyone happy. You might even say it is the Kiwi way, to look at "what works" rather than hew rigidly to principle. And anything that takes away Michael Laws' (or is that Lhaws?) soapbox is in and of itself A Good Thing.

However, that shouldn't disguise the fact that the battle for Whanganui's name is over, and the forces of "H" have won. Not today. Not even tomorrow. But when our kids get to our age, you can bet they'll all be speaking of the beauty of Whanganui, the river city.

 

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Comments (6)

by Andrew Geddis on December 19, 2009
Andrew Geddis

Oh dear. It appears that when I said "anything that takes away Michael Laws' (or is that Lhaws?) soapbox is in and of itself A Good Thing", I spoke too soon.

That said, with both TVNZ and Radio NZ deciding to henceforth pronounce the town's name "Faa-ganui" (in the name of national consistency), the fait accompli just became a done deal.

 

 

by Graeme Edgeler on December 20, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

with both TVNZ and Radio NZ deciding to henceforth pronounce the town's name "Faa-ganui" (in the name of national consistency), the fait accompli just became a done deal.

So Whanganui mana whenua had the choice between their city being correctly pronounced, but incorrecly spelled, or being correctly spelled, but incorrecly pronounced?

Having fought for years to have their local dialect, and its silent 'h', recognised, the major oral news services are going to throw it right back in their face. What do you mean there's a local dialect? They've won their fight for the newspapers, but lost radio and television in the process? Will this really be a victory?

And was Michael Laws actually right?

by Andrew Geddis on December 21, 2009
Andrew Geddis

Graeme,

I guess we need to distinguish between two points:
(1) TVNZ/RNZ's decision to treat the place name as Whanganui (irrespective of the fact that "Wanganui" remains an "official" name); and,

(2) TVNZ/RNZ's decision to pronounce the "Wh" as "Faa".

Seems to me point (1) is important nationally, even if you think (2) is misguided. But I guess (2) raises a bigger issue - to what extent should local idioms/dialects be relevant to nationwide reporting? So - does (or should) it matter that some members of Ngai Tahu think it should be "Kai Tahu", or that some in Central Otago refer to the Kawerau river as the "Kawaara"? Or, is it the job of the national news media to pronounce a place in the way that most listeners are going to understand what it means, irrespective of what those whose name it is think of that?

by Graeme Edgeler on December 21, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

I certainly accept your dual point analysis, but I think having different words to describe things is different from choosing to mispronounce a word for "national consistency".

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more - frankly - racist it seems. They accept that English is some advanced language where the same letter combination can have different sounds, but won't recognise that Maori is the same in this regard. When TV One and Radio NZ decide that enough and trough should rhyme for the sake of consistency, I'll accept that argument.

And you don't really think pronouncing the name of the River City as Faanganui will make more people know what they're talking about, do you? Surely keeping the same pronunciation that has been used since the place first existed would be better.

by Andrew Geddis on December 22, 2009
Andrew Geddis

"Indeed, the more I think about it, the more - frankly - racist it seems. They accept that English is some advanced language where the same letter combination can have different sounds, but won't recognise that Maori is the same in this regard. "

But isn't the point that there's variation within Maoridom over how to pronounce this name? So it's not RNZ/TVNZ saying "we dictate all "wh's" must be "faa"", but rather most Iwi/Hapu pronounce in this way (it's just Taranaki that don't) and RNZ/TVNZ are reflecting this majority practice. So, for example, this from the Maori Language Commission: "The ‘wh’ digraph is usually pronounced as an English ‘ f’ sound."

Of course, we might question TVNZ/RNZ's policy on pronounciation. Should it reflect the common practice within Maoridom as a whole, or should it recognise local dialect/linguistic differences? Who "owns" the name - the people of the area, or the entirety of those speaking the language? Does it matter if non-Maori speakers have adopted the practice of the local hapu and made the "h" silent in speech?

Gosh - put this way, it makes our jobs look easy!

by helenalex on January 06, 2010
helenalex

Graeme - the essential difference is that written English is completely inconsistent in terms of how vowel combinations are pronounced. Maori, because it didn't become a written language until less than 200 years ago, is not. So, good news: there is less racism in the world than you thought.

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