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Maori language

Maori language is the language of the Maori people of New Zealand. It is an East Polynesian Austronesian language closely related to Samoan, Tongan and Hawai'ian.

Te reo Maori is the literal Maori translation of 'the Maori language'. The shortened term te reo is sometimes used in New Zealand English speech to refer to Maori. Even though te reo literally means just 'the language' it is invariably understood to refer to the Maori language. In Maori speech the language is often referred to as te reo rangatira, the language of chiefs.

Maori is still in daily use among some Maori people. Together with English, it is an official language of New Zealand and may be used, as of right, in parliament and courts of law, although when used in these circumstances it is customary to ensure translators are available or provide a translation into English.

The Maori Language Commission is a New Zealand government commission that has been established to support and promote Maori as a living language and as an ordinary means of communication.

Prior to the arrival of missionaries in New Zealand, Maori was an oral language only. It was recorded in a regular and scientific manner by the missionary linguists and is spelled phonetically with one letter symbol for each sound. All syllables end in a vowel or consist of a vowel alone. The nearest sounding English language letters were used to represent the Maori language sounds. Although the phonetic match is not exact, an unfamiliar Maori word can normally be competently and understandably rendered by any English speaker, at first encounter, by following the general rule.

For example:

Maori => ma o ri
Whanganui => wha nga nu i
Paraparaumu => pa ra pa ra u mu, (though it has been informally anglicised as pa ra par ram)
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu => Ta u ma ta wha ka ta ngi ha nga ko a u a u o ta ma te a tu ri pu ka ka pi ki ma u nga ho ro nu ku po ka i whe nu a ki ta na ta hu (Yes it is a real Maori word!)

Attempts to pronounce Maori words by visitors to New Zealand who have not mastered this simple rule are often met with blank looks, total lack of understanding, expressions of pain or howls of laughter or derision once the improperly pronounced word is understood. Unfortunately it is a frequent habit of New Zealanders to accept such mispronunciations without correction or drawing attention to the error.

The only weakness with the phonetic spelling system is that long vowel sounds were not easily represented. Modifications to the early records saw various symbols such as dots or accentation marks being placed over the vowel letters, or the letter being repeated, to represent a long vowel sound. Recently the Maori Language Commission has recommended that a macron or bar be placed above long vowels in words.

This means that the word Maori is more correctly shown as Māori. However, the "a" with the macron may display as a square on some web browsers. The Maori Language Commission provides an appropriate Unicode character set to assist with such problems (see macron).

Table of contents
1 Pronunciation
2 Correspondences
3 External links


Māori pronunciation varies between regions and iwi. The commonly used pronunciation of northern iwi is described in this article.

The vowels are pronounced as shown below, allowing for differences in English pronunciation:

abut āfather
epen ēpair
ibit ībeet
ofort ōstore
uput ūboot

Adjacent vowels are run together as a diphthong. For example, "kai" (food) rhymes with "high".

The consonants are h, k, m, n, ng, p, r, t, w and wh, and are mostly pronounced as in English, with these exceptions:


Here are some Maori~Hawai'ian sound correspondences1, using SAMPA representation:

Maori Hawai'ian Example(s)
/t/ /k/ Tangata Maori ~ Kanaka Maoli ; te Atua ~ ke Akua
/N/ /n/  
/r/ /l/ aroha ~ aloha
/k/ /?/  

1. See the comparative method of linguistics.

External links