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Legal Maori Project

The Legal Maori Project is a major research initiative being undertaken at the Victoria University Law Faculty that has recently completed two major works timed to coincide with 2010 Maori language week.

The Legal Maori Project aims to produce a legal dictionary for speakers of te reo Maori, providing them with a vocabulary to describe western legal concepts. When completed the project will allow Maori speakers to practice any type of law, draft any legislation, write or teach or talk on any law in te reo Maori. It is hoped that enabling Maori speakers to engage with, critique and utilise the New Zealand legal system in te reo Maori will allow the potential of all Maori speakers to be realised in all fields where Western legal concepts have relevance.

The Legal Maori Project team has recently reached two milestone on the road to this goal: the completion of a Legal Maori lexicon and the Legal Maori Corpus.

The Legal Maori Corpus is a collection of modern and historical Maori legal language texts totalling eight million words. The Legal Maori Lexicon is a glossary of all legal terms identified during the course of the project so far. More than 2000 terms have been collated with their English translations. These terms, and their frequency of appearance in the Corpus will form the basis of the legal Maori dictionary.

Project co-leader and Victoria University Law Faculty lecturer Mamari Stephens was surprised by the scale of the task.

“When we started the project two years ago we had no idea the final size of our corpus would be so great, and to our knowledge, it is the largest structured corpus of Maori language texts ever compiled,” she says.

“It is our hope, as we celebrate another Maori Language Week, that within a few short years any person or group will be able to use te reo Maori to engage fully in the New Zealand legal system. The Corpus and the Lexicon are important tools to help us move in that direction.”

The dictionary, which is the culmination of the project, is due to be completed by early 2012.

This article was published in LawTalk 756, 16 August 2010, page 10.

Last updated on the 11th May 2012