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Māori phrasebook

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The Maori language is cherished by the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, as a treasure and many pakeha are now trying to learn it. However, although it is an official language of New Zealand, few New Zealanders (and only a minority of Maori) can conduct a conversation in the Maori language (all indigenous Maori speakers are bilingual and understand English just as well).

Still, a number of Maori words have been adopted into New Zealand English, while many place names are Maori words. Being able to correctly pronounce Maori words is a valued skill since incorrectly pronounced Maori sounds like fingernails scratching on a blackboard and will immediately identify you as a visitor to the country. Even a tolerable and halting attempt at the correct pronunciation is better than a poor guess – your effort to get it right will be appreciated and accepted. (Many New Zealanders have trouble with some Maori place names, so you will blend in with the crowd.)

Pronunciation Guide

The New Zealand Maori language (Maori: Te Reo Maori) is relatively simple to pronounce.

Vowels

Each of the vowels has a long and short form:

short a 
a as u in butt
long a 
ā as a in father
short e 
e as e in pen
long e 
ē as ai in pair
short i 
i as i in bit
long i 
ī as ee in feet
short o 
o as o in fort
long o 
ō as o in store
short u 
u as u in put
long u 
ū as oo in boot

Macron usage

In written Māori, the long vowels are often denoted by macrons (bars over the letters) or whatever similar characters were available to the typesetter. Sometimes you will see words where a vowel letter is repeated. This may indicate that the vowel is pronounced "long", but modern usage is to use the macron.

Thus Māori, Maaori and Maori would all represent the same word; although you will never see it spelled "Maaori".

Macrons are not normally used when a Maori word has been adopted into English, and they do not generally appear on direction signs or maps. But this is beginning to change, with road direction signs for Taupo (both the lake and the town) now written as Taupō.

Consonants

Syllables

Maori words are broken into syllables at each vowel or consonant-vowel pair.

For example:

Akatarawa 
is said A ka 'ta ra wa
Māori 
is said Maa o ri
Paraparaumu 
is said Pa ra pa ra 'u mu
Whangarei 
is said faa nga rei

Semantics

Maori word root combinations tend to have a major root subject followed by qualifier suffixes. This means a literal translation from Maori to English produces a lot of transposed word combinations.

For example:

  • Rotoruarotolake and ruatwo = two lakes.
  • Kaimoanakaifood and moanasea = seafood.

Phrase list

An ordinary traveler will not need to resort to speaking Maori to make themselves understood. However an understanding of Maori words and their meanings will lead to an appreciation of the culture and enhance the travel experience.

Donation 
Koha

Greetings

Maori take meetings and greetings seriously. Visitors and honored guests will often be welcomed in a formal ceremony known as a Powhiri. While such ceremonies generally take place on a Marae, it has become accepted practice that such ceremonies may also take place at conferences, important meetings, and similar ceremonial occasions. On such formal occasions, protocol will normally mean that a representative or adviser who can speak Maori will be assigned to the visitors' party to assist and explain what is happening and may formally speak (Whaikorero) to introduce the visitors.

Hello (informal or answering the telephone) 
Kia ora
Hello (to one person) 
Tēnā koe
Hello (to two people) 
Tēnā kōrua
Hello (to a group) 
Tēnā koutou
Welcome 
Haere mai
How are you? 
Kei te pēhea koe?
I'm good 
Kei te pai ahau
I'm great 
Ka nui te ora
What is your name? 
Ko wai tō ingoa?
My name is ______ 
Ko ______ toku ingoa
What is his/her name? 
Ko wai tana ingoa?
His/her name is ______ 
Ko ______ tana ingoa
Good-bye (to the person staying) 
E noho rā
Good-bye (to the person going)  
Haere rā

Basics

Please 
koa (Homai koa he kaputi = Give me a cup of tea, please )
Please 
Tena (Tena homai he kaputi = Please give me a cup of tea)
Thank you 
kia ora (is pronounced KEE-A o-ra)
Yes 
ae
No 
kaore

Hello means tena koe Well being means Kia ora As there is no word for thank you, kia ora is used No is Kahore for the Northland tribe Nga Puhi

Numbers

Tahi (tar-he)
Rua (rew-ah)
Toru (toh-rew)
Wha (far)
Rima (ree-ma)
Ono (o-noh)
Whitu (fee-too)
Waru (waah-rew)
Iwa (ee-wah)
10 
Tekau (teh-ko)

To say numbers higher than then you must say Tekau ma *number*

11 
Tekau ma Tahi
12 
Tekau ma Rua
13 
Tekau ma Toru
14 
Tekau ma Wha
15 
Tekau ma Rima
16 
Tekau ma Ono
17 
Tekau ma Whitu
18 
Tekau ma Waru
19 
Tekau ma Iwa

To say 20,30,40,50 - 90 you must say *number* Tekau E.G. 20 is Rua Tekau and 30 is Toru Tekau

If you want to say any numbers in between you must say *number* Tekau ma *number*

21 
Rua Tekau ma Tahi
32 
Toru Tekau ma Rua
43 
Wha Tekau ma Toru

And so on....

Glossary of Maori geographical terms translated into English

Knowing a little about these terms will help you to both pronounce the name and understand what it means.

ana 
cave
awa 
river, channel
iti 
small
manga 
stream (e.g. Mangawhio: in South Taranaki = blue duck stream)
maunga 
mountain
moana 
sea, lake (e.g. Lake Waikaremoana: in the western Hawke's Bay region = sea of rippling water)
motu 
island
nga 
the (plural form)
nui 
big
one 
beach, sand, soil
kohatu 
rock
puke 
hill (e.g. Te Puke: in the Bay of Plenty region = the hill)
rangi 
sky, heavens
roa 
long
roto 
lake (e.g. Lake Rotoiti: in the Bay of Plenty region = small lake)
rua 
two
tai 
tide, sea
tapu 
sacred
te 
the (singular form)
toka 
rock
wai 
water (e.g. Wairoa: in Taranaki = long water)
whanga 
bay, harbor (e.g. Whanganui River = big harbor)
whenua 
land


Many place names have been made tautological by Europeans adding a word which is already contained in the Māori name (example: Mount Maunganui = "Mount big mountain"). However, in recent years, there has been a trend for New Zealand English speakers to drop the English geographic qualifier and refer to many geographic features by their Māori names alone. Thus, Mount Ruapehu is often referred to simply as Ruapehu. In some cases, there has been a reversion to Māori names and outdated travel information may only use the old name. For example, Mount Egmont is now often called Taranaki or Mount Taranaki and Mount Cook is now officially called Aoraki/Mount Cook; these are the original Māori names. In other cases the Māori name is followed by a pluralising s where the omitted English geographic term was plural. So the Rimutakas is used in place of the Rimutaka ranges. In conversation you may hear phrases like the Waikato or the Manawatu. In these cases the speaker is talking about either the river of that name or a district or region. For example, the Waikato will refer to either the the Waikato river or the Waikato region, while Waikato (without the) would probably refer to the region, though this may need to be inferred from the context.

Learning more

Maori is taught in many places around New Zealand, often as a night class. Ask at the local information centre or citizens advice bureau. The Maori Language Commission also has a list of course providers.

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