From 1973 and 1979, Richard Benton and his team interviewed 6,470 Māori families throughout the North Island of New Zealand. A total of 6,916 household heads took part in the survey, supplying extensive information about their knowledge of the language, their use of it in a variety of situations, and their attitudes and experiences related to the language. In addition, they contributed information about the age, iwi and hapū membership, residential history, education, and knowledge of oral and written Māori of all members of their households, thus expanding the coverage of the survey to 33,338 individuals.
These interviews resulted in the now famous NZCER Sociolinguistic Survey of Māori Language Use. The findings showed that te reo Māori use was in rapid decline and in danger of disappearing. It served as a clear sign that drastic measures had to be taken in order to revive te reo Māori usage and to keep it alive for generations to come.
The Māori language – Dying or reviving working paper provides an overview of what the data revealed about the state of Māori language in the 1970s. Much has changed since its original publication in 1991. However, this is an important piece of work to revisit particularly during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Māori Langauge Week.