I see that Mayor Michael Laws is trying to re-ignite the debate over the ‘h’ in Whanganui. As reported on Stuff.co.nz he is going to ‘complain to the Press Council and Broadcasting Standards Authority over media using the name Whanganui.’ He has gone so far as to say that media bodies that using the name Whanganui are acting illegally. I guess that makes me a criminal.
The "h" conversation feels finished to me. As far as I'm concerned the decision is made and Mayor Laws got some consolation in the end. Through his tireless efforts and the voice of a sector of his community, the Geographic Board agreed to make both Whanganui and Wanganui official. I've looked at other decisions made by the Board and this is not usually the case, therefore it is a ‘win’ for Michael Laws.
Why is Michael Laws bringing this up again? Is it to divert attention from the embarrassing headlines of last week regarding his interactions with an ex-prostitute and ‘P’ user? Is it that it is currently the time of year when commercial radio stations round the country are fighting for ratings and Mr. Laws needs desperately for his ratings to rise? Or does he genuinely believe the rhetoric he is spouting?
Michael Laws says that over the past 160 years or so, Wanganui has developed its own culture, and he’s right, and that’s why the Geographic Board allowed that spelling of the beautiful town to remain without the ‘h’. Again this appears to be a win for Mr. Laws.
Michael Laws often uses the argument that even the local iwi don’t pronounce the ‘Wh’ as an ‘f’ sound. Again, Mr. Laws is right…but it is a weak argument. What he is saying is that even if people are stupid enough (my paraphrase) to want to include the ‘h’, they should then at least pronounce it as the local iwi do, with the ‘Wh’ sounding more like the start of ‘whistle’.
I've developed my own theory on this, I call it the 'dominant dialect theory'. I think that the most common pronunciation of a word makes that pronunciation acceptable, even if it differs from local dialect. Amongst Maori speakers most pronounce ‘Wh’ as an ‘f’ therefore it is entirely acceptable to pronounce Whanganui with the ‘f’ sound. If we followed Michael Laws’ argument of how the local dialect is the only acceptable alternate version, we would all need to roll our ‘r’ when pronouncing Gore because that is how the locals say it. It just doesn't work.
Finally the concept that Mayor Laws uses repetitively which is that the majority want it without the ‘h’ therefore it’s undemocratic to put in the ‘h’ is rubbish. Laws is not talking about democracy, he is talking about mob rule. Sometimes the ‘majority’ shouldn’t get what they want…sometimes there are good reasons why the majority should bow to official decisions. If you asked students to vote whether they should pay fees or not, I’ll bet the majority would say ‘No!’, but if we followed that mob rule our national debt would go further through the roof to pay for University fees.
Laws is pitching this to the lowest common denominator, those who are scared of the ‘taniwha’ under the bed, and he is looking for people to buy his over-simplified , thin at best, divisive attitude towards an issue where he has already had a win…it’s just not the ‘win’ he wanted.
Whanganui, Wanganui, Whatever…isn’t it time to let this old, old warhorse know that those of us that want to call it Wanganui can….that those of us that want to call it Whanganui with an ‘f’ can…and that those of us that want to call it Whanganui with a ‘wh’ can…where’s the problem with that?