Thursday, 29 May 2008

Legal Maori Archive

A senior lecturer in law at Victoria University has attracted funding worth $673,000 for a research project that aims to produce an online archive of 19th century legal Maori texts with the NZETC and New Zealand’s first Legal Maori dictionary.

Mamari Stephens has received a $5,000 New Researcher's Fund grant, $20,000 from the University Research Fund, $55,000 from the University Library Contestable Fund and $593,000 from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology - the first time a project from the Law School has been funded by the Foundation.

"We have a bilingual legal past - at least until the late 1800s - but much of it is hidden in the Alexander Turnbull Library, says Stephens. Early Acts of Parliament and many other legal documents were translated into Maori - mainly because Maori became a written language very early on."

The first stage of the research is gathering and accessing any texts in Maori from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries about any legal topic. Those texts in print format will be digitised and en estimated 10,000 pages of 19th century texts will be made freely available through the NZETC collection.

The second stage involves seeing where gaps exist and what new terms might need to be made. A steering group which includes Maori language experts, legal academics and members of the judiciary has been formed to inform this process and develop principles for the adoption of new terms.

A third stage is the compilation of the dictionary and putting it together in a useable form. "The aim of the project is to have work that is user friendly and helpful to those working in areas involving Maori language. This is an ever increasing sphere - the Maori Affairs Select Committee, for example, now have their reports in Maori as well as English," says Stephens.

"It is my sincere wish that this project results in a key resource that not only allows us to understand our bilingual legal history, but provide a frame of reference for the future."

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