The Evolution of Te Māori

The Maori language was always oral, and has a simpler alphabet than other languages. When explorers, missionaries and pioneer settlers wrote down Maori words, they had to invent the spelling, especially with vowels.

The  only consonants are: h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, ng (pronounced as in ‘wrong, and wh (pronounced as in ‘where’ but for some iwi as ‘f’)

Vowels are as English, but different sounds; a (ah), e (air), i (ee), o (awe), and u (oo as in loop) and can be long or short.
Long vowels should have a macron above them, as: ā, ē,  ī,  ō, ū
[Confession – i’ve been lazy about inserting macrons following this point.]

The language was often regarded as being lyrical, poetic or metaphorical. But it was limited in vocabulary, having few words to describe abstract concepts; so Maori discussion of such phrases as were used in (e.g.) the Treaty of Waitangi would, when translated into Maori and then translated back from Maori to English, often change in emphasis. This is why Te Tiriti
(a transliteration from English) can give rise to misinterpretation about its intent.

Some words in te Reo have multiple meanings; for example “taua” can mean army, war-party, grandmother, old woman, or ‘that mentioned before’. In translating te Reo Māori into English one needs more than a single word Māori to English dictionary – one needs a grasp of the context and concepts being discussed.

I have not (yet) found the single Māori word for “colour” as an abstract concept. English has  names for so many colours, from basic hues through tints and shades. (e.g.) the word “yellow”- it’s a colour, we recognise it in all its shades and tints,  and we can understand that and modify it to specifically describe. In te Reo the word for yellow is “kowhai” – which is also a tree. So when something is described as kowhai, it is really saying that it is “the colour of the kowhai tree blossoms”. Blue is ‘the blue of the sky’ – “Kahurangi”. Green is “kakariki” – the colour of the parrot. Orange as a colour has a word in Te Reo – “karaka”, but as a fruit it is named ‘arani’ and orange juice is ‘waiarani’ –water/liquid from the ‘arani’

As their way of life – Tikanga – was relatively simple, based on only the natural resources of the islands, forests, their cultivation plots, and the rivers and oceans – the influences of new materials and equipment, and abstract concepts brought to NZ by settlers created the need for specific words for the objects, and the solution was to transliterate, as with ‘arani’ above.

Some examples: motor car became motoka, treaty became tiriti, boot became putu, ice cream became ‘aihi kirimi’, football became ‘whutupaoro’ or’ hutuporo’ (even though there is the word “waewae” meaning foot).

In those early days of colonisation, those writing down Māori speech may not have been terribly literate themselves, or may not have really cared much about the accuracy of what they wrote.

It is only recently that Māori people were able to approach government to have the city Wanganui renamed (correctly) as “Whanganui”. Many people have grumped about the fuss, but local iwi have a point – “nui” means big, “whanga” means bay, but there is no Maori word wanga at all. Wanganui meant nothing. “Whanganui” means big bay or big harbour. I’m glad the city’s name has been allowed to revert to something meaningful!

More recently, transliterations have been wherever possible replaced by composite māori words which convey a real meaning in te Reo. So an aeroplane is a “wakarererangi “– ‘a canoe that flies in the sky’.

I wrote this from  a spark of an idea in a post by another multiply member, by multiply member “remixed phoenix”, Ever_Wondered_How_a_Language_Inherits_New_Words

 I’m not a scholar of te Reo, being fully “pakeha” (not Māori, or white insect), but am simply offering some ideas for those interested.

Greetings and Phrases  in te Reo…

Hello –    “Tena koe” (hello to you (one)

                “Tena korua” (hello, you two)

                “Tena koutou” (hullo, you all/three or more)

                “Kia ora” (casual, informal, friendly)

Thank you – “Kia ora”

Sit            –               “noho”

Sit down –              “E noho”

Sit down please  –  “E noho koa”

Come here , welcome – “Haere”, “Haere mai”

Go away –               “Haere atu”

Go there –              “Haere ra”

Listen, listen to me – “Whakarongo, Whakarongo mai”

Look, look at  me –               “Titiro”, Titiro mai”

Talk, talk to me-    “Korero”, “Korero mai”

Good bye –            “Haere atu” (to those leaving)

                                “E noho ra!” (to those you are leaving)

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