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August 5, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Interview With Mamari Stephens

What was one of the reasons that you decided to establish this papakupu, particularly in relation to Tauira Māori?

I think one of the main reasons is that there is a policy where students can submit their assignments in Te Reo Māori. There had been some discussion in 2006 about the possibility of the Faculty of Law applying for an exemption from this policy, particularly for Te Reo on the basis that English was central to the study of law. But perhaps a few also presumed that Māori is not a language that can be used to transmit concepts of Western Law. I thought if we could pull together a good vocabulary from all the Māori language texts from our legal history, this might help those students to use Māori for their assignments and demonstrate that Māori can indeed be a language of law. Added to that, it was also created as a guide for Māori people to use in everyday law settings.

Who else contributed to this project?

The project was led by myself and Assistant Professor Dr Mary Boyce from the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa. Then there was a group of 25 research assistants who helped construct the mahi, led by Tai Ahu. We had a steering committee made up of Te Ripowai Higgins, Paul Meredith, Professor Richard Benton, Te Haumihiata Mason, Judge Craig Coxhead, Judge David Ambler, Professor Richard Boast, Carwyn Jones, and Mākena Reedy.

What were the challenges that came with the establishment of this project?

The sheer bulk of texts—Te nui hoki o ngā tuhinga! We came up with 4- or 5000 possible words or phrases that could be included in a dictionary and we tested them all. Once we were happy with the list we had, we doled them out to our researchers and they would go and find what were the legal ways these words were being used, and then find good usage examples for those words and phrases. You know, Māori is a very multi-layered language, because as we know, one Māori kupu can mean multiple different things—the word for this is polysemy. And having to read through the historical texts, often without translation, was a real challenge to document the strongest legal meanings.

How long did it take to complete?

Well, we started in 2007 with small grants, and it really kicked off in 2008 with major funding from the (now) Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment. The Papakupu was published in 2013, and the next step is to get it online.

Most memorable part of doing this project?

Oh crikey! Umm, [laughs], ohh I had a baby! Well, we had a lot of ‘project babies’! Dulce Piacentini had one, I had one, Paranihia Walker had one, Alison Stevenson, and Joeliee Seed-Pihema had babies also… in terms of legacy you know haha.

At the same time, we also lost my sister-in-law, Wiha Te Raki Hawea Stephens; she was on the steering committee, and she passed away in 2009—she was with Te Taura Whiri. So that was a sad time for us, as she was one of the foremost exponents of the project. But you know, that’s the nature of something that goes on for a long period of time; births and deaths.

But in terms of work and stuff, if you love words, and how language works, then you’ll love this kind of stuff.

And you do?

Yeah, hell yeah; I mean, it’s Te Reo, what’s not to love?! And the particular special nature of the words: how our people described why they used that word to describe a particular concept.

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