What is the official language of New Zealand?

The official language of New Zealand is an important aspect of understanding the country’s cultural and linguistic diversity. This article provides insights into the official language(s) spoken in New Zealand, shedding light on its historical background, significance, and current usage. Whether you are planning a trip or simply curious about the linguistic landscape of New Zealand, this article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the official language(s) embraced by this Pacific island nation.

History of Languages in New Zealand

Colonization and English Language

New Zealand’s history of languages is deeply intertwined with its colonization by European settlers. In the late 18th century, Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand and established contact with the indigenous Māori people. This marked the beginning of European influence in the region.

With the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the British Crown gained sovereignty over New Zealand. As a result, English became the dominant language of administration, education, and commerce. The English language quickly spread throughout the country, facilitated by the influx of British settlers and the establishment of English-speaking institutions.

The English language’s prominence grew during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as New Zealand experienced an influx of immigrants from various European countries. English became the language of choice for communication and integration among these diverse communities.

Māori Language and Revitalization Efforts

Prior to colonization, the Māori language was the predominant language spoken by the indigenous people of New Zealand. However, the arrival of European settlers had a profound impact on the Māori language, leading to a decline in its usage.

In recent decades, there has been a significant effort to revitalize the Māori language. Recognizing its cultural importance and the need to preserve indigenous languages, the New Zealand government has implemented various initiatives to support and promote the Māori language.

The Māori Language Act of 1987 was a significant milestone in this revitalization process. It recognized Māori as an official language of New Zealand, alongside English, and established the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori) to promote its use.

Today, Māori language revitalization efforts include the incorporation of Māori language education in schools, the creation of Māori language immersion programs, and the promotion of Māori language resources and media. These initiatives aim to ensure the preservation and continuation of the Māori language for future generations.

In conclusion, the history of languages in New Zealand is a tale of colonization, dominance of the English language, and subsequent efforts to revitalize the indigenous Māori language. While English remains the official language of New Zealand, there is a growing recognition and support for the preservation and revitalization of the Māori language as an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Current Language Situation in New Zealand

Official Language of New Zealand

New Zealand does not have an official language designated by law. However, English is widely used and considered the de facto official language of the country. It serves as the primary language for government, education, business, and everyday communication among the majority of the population.

Recognition of Māori Language

Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, holds a special place in the country’s cultural heritage. It is recognized as one of New Zealand’s official languages under the Māori Language Act of 1987. This act aims to promote and protect the use of the Māori language in various domains, including education, government, media, and public life.

The recognition of the Māori language is an essential aspect of New Zealand’s commitment to honoring its indigenous culture and fostering a sense of national identity. Efforts have been made to revitalize the language and ensure its survival for future generations. Bilingual signage, Māori language classes, and increased representation of Māori culture in various aspects of society are some of the initiatives taken to promote the use and understanding of the Māori language.

While English remains the dominant language in New Zealand, the recognition and preservation of the Māori language reflect the country’s commitment to cultural diversity and inclusivity. The Māori language holds a significant place in New Zealand’s history, and its recognition demonstrates the nation’s respect for its indigenous roots.

Language Policies and Legislation

Official Languages Act 1987

The Official Languages Act of 1987 is a significant piece of legislation in New Zealand that addresses the issue of language policies. This act recognizes both English and Te Reo Māori as official languages of the country. It affirms the importance of preserving and promoting the use of Te Reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, alongside English.

The Official Languages Act of 1987 aims to ensure that government agencies actively support and encourage the use of both languages in their day-to-day operations. It promotes the provision of bilingual public services, including the use of both English and Te Reo Māori in official documents, publications, and signage. This act also establishes the role of the Māori Language Commission, now known as Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, as the principal organization responsible for promoting and protecting Te Reo Māori.

Te Reo Māori Act 2016

The Te Reo Māori Act of 2016 further reinforces New Zealand’s commitment to the preservation and revitalization of the Māori language. This act acknowledges Te Reo Māori as a taonga (treasure) and a unique cultural heritage of the Māori people.

The Te Reo Māori Act places a particular focus on promoting the use of Te Reo Māori across various sectors, including education, broadcasting, and government services. It aims to increase the number of New Zealanders who can speak, understand, and use Te Reo Māori. The act encourages the incorporation of Te Reo Māori into everyday life and seeks to create opportunities for its revitalization and growth.

Under this act, government agencies and organizations are urged to actively support the use of Te Reo Māori through measures such as the provision of language learning resources, the promotion of Māori-language media, and the integration of Te Reo Māori into public spaces and events.

In conclusion, the Official Languages Act of 1987 and the Te Reo Māori Act of 2016 reflect New Zealand’s commitment to language diversity and the preservation of Te Reo Māori as an official language. These acts establish a framework for promoting bilingualism and ensuring that both English and Te Reo Māori are valued and utilized in various aspects of New Zealand society.


In conclusion, the official language of New Zealand is English. While the country is known for its rich cultural diversity and the presence of the indigenous Maori language, English holds the status of an official language. This recognition reflects the historical and cultural ties New Zealand has with the English-speaking world. English plays a vital role in everyday life, education, government, and business transactions in the country. However, efforts to preserve and promote the Maori language are also significant as it holds a special place in New Zealand’s identity and heritage. The recognition of English as the official language ensures effective communication and facilitates international relations for New Zealand on a global scale.

Share This Post: