Thursday, June 25, 2020

There goes my collection of Viking records

I bristled – boy, did I bristle! – when I read that the housing company G J Gardner had withdrawn a TV commercial after someone objected that the name “Taranaki” wasn’t correctly pronounced.

Te Waka McLeod reportedly complained to the company and suggested its staff attend a “cultural competency” course. G J Gardner initially rebuffed her, explaining that the people in the ad were not paid actors but real people, born and bred in Taranaki, and this was how they chose to pronounce the name. “It’s a personal choice, this keeps our ad authentic.”

It didn’t take a genius to see how this was going to play out. McLeod posted the company’s response on social media – as you do – and G J Gardner suddenly found itself fielding more complaints. The company was soon in reverse gear, acknowledging it was wrong and apologising. “We do not wish to offend any New Zealanders of any ethnicity, culture, religion or lifestyle,” said national franchise owner Grant Porteous, metaphorically beating his breast.

He confirmed the ad was no longer on air and said “we need to do better” across the country in terms of pronunciation of Maori. “We should support this movement and the desire of passionate Maori to have their culture and heritage re-generated across all New Zealand.”

McLeod was reported as saying she was happy to see the ad pulled – well, she would be – and hoped it was the beginning of “a wider conversation” about getting pronunciation right, including within corporate organisations.

So what was it about this affair that made me bristle? After all, I agree we should make an effort to pronounce Maori names and words more carefully, which is not something that comes easily to someone brought up in Waipukurau. Try overcoming the habit of a lifetime by pronouncing that name correctly. I do it, but it requires a conscious effort and still makes me feel slightly, er, woke. Suffice to say, most of the people I know who live in the town still pronounce the name the old way – which, incidentally, is how Maori pronounced it too when I was growing up there.

Here’s the thing. I believe there’s a gradual cultural evolution taking place in which the country is moving toward correct pronunciation of Maori and greater recognition of the Maori language in general, even to the extent of considering the substitution of Maori place names for English ones (which is fine as far as I’m concerned, just as long as it’s done by popular, informed consent after an open debate).

My Pakeha grandsons pronounce Maori words correctly and pull me up when I don’t. But generations of older New Zealanders have grown up pronouncing Maori in a particular way (just listen to long-term residents of Wonger-newie and Tau-wronger), and I think we should cut them some slack. As G J Gardner initially pointed out, before their risk-averse PR advisers presumably got in on the act, the people in the TV ad were pronouncing Taranaki the way they always have. I don’t believe for a moment that they intended to degrade the Maori language.

In fact I’d go further and say we should respect people’s right to get pronunciation wrong, just as we respect the right of people to express opinions that we think are crazy. After all, broadcasters and journalists get away with mangling spoken and written English day-in, day-out.

In a sense, it’s a freedom of speech issue. But there’s a distinct whiff of cultural totalitarianism in the way that Maori language activists, who have been given a fresh tail wind by the overwrought BLM protests, demand that others conform to their ideals – and use online gang-ups to achieve it.

That’s the other disturbing thing here: the speed with which G J Gardner capitulated. Of course it was their right to change their mind about the ad, and some people will applaud them. But what message does it send when companies collapse in a grovelling, mea-culpa heap at the first sign of controversy, as they so often do? It signals that capitalism lacks the guts and confidence to stick up for itself, which is all the encouragement the enemies of capitalism need.

Speaking of which, I see that Nestlé in Australia is renaming its Red Skins and Chicos lolly brands because “redskin” was once (a long time ago) a derogatory term for a Native American and “Chico” supposedly can be – can be – an offensive term for a Hispanic person. (It’s also the name of a Californian city where friends of ours live. Perhaps that’s racist too.)

No doubt greatly heartened by Nestlé’s decision, an Auckland activist – a UK-trained lawyer, one of the many who arrive here and immediately set about turning us into the culturally enlightened type of society they think we should be – is now urging that Eskimo lollies and even Afghan biscuits be rebranded.

Afghan biscuits? Good grief. Should I, then, be throwing out my old Viking records? Should we lay siege to the makers of Kiwi shoe polish and demand that hotel menus no longer refer to English breakfasts? And how the hell have Indian motorcycles (a brand currently enjoying a spirited revival) survived?

A rational person would ask a couple of simple questions: is the brand name demeaning? Is it degrading? To which the answer, in almost all cases, is no. But we’re not dealing here with rational people; we’re dealing with ideologues and zealots intent on reshaping the world.

Footnote: My apologies to the people who commented on an earlier publication of this blog. When I replaced it with a properly formatted version, the comments unfortunately disappeared too. 


Doug Longmire said...

This pc "anti racist" nonsense seems to know no bounds. I hear that Chess has been called racist because "White always goes first". Maybe the chessboard will be recoloured say.. Green and Purple squares?
Uncle Ben's rice is to be re pictured. Can't have a picture of a brown/dark man's face shown, can we ?
However, there may be some payback by the silent majority of people who do not appreciate being dictated to by an hysterical mob.
I recall that Gillette made an advert that potrayed men as predatory sexual deviant creeps, and actually stated a message along the lines of "Come on men - we can do better than this.." Many men, including me, found this advert extremely offensive and inappropriate, and decided to boycott Gillette products. As a result, I read later, Proctor and Gamble, owners of Gillette had lost about $5 billion dollars in lost sales.

Doug Longmire said...

I'm an old time resident of Pie-cock. Before that we lived in Rarr-matti South. (Just down the road from Parra-pramm.
I also lived in Whellington.

Unknown said...

I wonder if something else is in play. Genuine offence, or a ready-made "solution" of an advisory payment for, or fluent Maori speakers to be in ads? It can't be cheap to produce a TV ad, only to have to throw it away.

Doug Longmire said...

My childhood On the Cappittee Coast - great place to grow up !!

Ricardo said...

I have just perused the SpinOff website looking for any substantive reporting/opinion/analysis on any of the [1] cold-blooded execution of one policeman and attempted murder of another and a separate civilian or [2] large scale arrests and seizures of a criminal drug network. I read somewhere that meth was possibly involved with regard to the police slaughter, as it was also possibly an element in the recent 100 kph head on death in a 50 kph main street in the Wairarapa.

Nothing. Plenty on transitioning, black NZers, statues and monuments etc (all topics worthy of serious discussion) but not a word I could find asking for specific meaning in the constable's ultimate sacrifice or in general on NZ's ongoing spiral into criminally driven drug dependency.

A topic not to be given any prominence with a certain referendum approaching?

Andy Espersen said...

Just laugh at all this nonsense - don't even worry about it. Anybody who has the faintest ideas about languages knows that these change as times go by - and nothing we can do about it. This "correct Maori pronunciation" craze will fizzle out within a very few years. People will get heartily sick about it very soon.

hughvane said...

Dixie Chicks are joining the craven crowd and dropping the first of their names, Unilever the word 'fair' from its skin cream description. Who or what is next? On the bandwagon, people, we need the publicity!

Brendan McNeill said...


When it comes to culturally 'inappropriate' names, I cannot help but wonder if the clock ticking on the "All Blacks" and the "All Whites"?

The first is culturally appropriation in the extreme, the second is an expression of colonial systemic racism.

Hilary Taylor said...

I did a linguistics degree at Vic in the late 70s. It was regarded as silly to chide folk on how they pronounced borrowed words when speaking their mother tongue...when one is speaking a foreign language then aim for correct 'pron'...obviously. The 'Paraparam' example & other Maori pron was much discussed. As Andy says above, these things change naturally over time & I choose to laugh it off. Others can choose to take offense and I don't choose their company if so. Context is important, also obvious, and these days I can find myself offerring both pronunciations, depending on my audience, for on occasion folk can simply misunderstand you if you don't....and that's where it gets silly. (There's a bit of wry humour to be had in offerring both.) You're spot on Karl...folk don't use the old prons to be offensive...that's how they speak for heaven's sake. I hate the GJ Gardner-type capitulations. Loving the irony of the very woke and 90s- monikered Siouxie Wiles these days...