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People and Society, Ethnic Groups and Languages

official languages of New Zealand, New Zealand accent, Polynesian people, kohanga reo, Pakeha

New Zealanders of European descent, who are often known by the Maori name Pakeha, comprise about 75 percent of the population. They are usually described as the largest ethnic group, but in fact they are ethnically mixed. People of English, Scottish, and Irish descent comprise the largest groups (in that order), but there are also people of German, Australian, Scandinavian, Croatian, and Dutch descent.

Maori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand, are the largest non-European group. They are a Polynesian people whose ancestors first settled the islands in about ad 1100. Their share of the population declined precipitously in the 19th century, after European colonization of the islands, but it rebounded dramatically during the 20th century from less than 5 percent in 1900 to about 15 percent in 2000.

Pacific Islanders and East Asians each account for about 5 percent of the population. Large-scale Pacific Islander immigration began in the 1960s. These immigrants came mainly from Tonga, the Fiji Islands, Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands, and, most of all, Samoa. East Asian immigration dates from the 1860s, when gold rushes attracted thousands of Chinese. Another wave of immigration began in the 1980s by peoples from East and Southeast Asia, including ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan, South Koreans, Thais, Malaysians, Vietnamese, and Filipinos.

English and Maori are the official languages of New Zealand. Most of the people speak English with a New Zealand accent, which resembles the Australian accent. The Maori language belongs to the Austronesian language family. It was recognized as an official language in 1987. A small percentage of the total Maori population is considered fluent in Maori, but the language is being revived in early-childhood programs known as kohanga reo (“language nests”). Other Polynesian and European languages are spoken by a small percentage of the population.

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