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The Maori Language

The Maori Language is still very much a living language and is widely used in Maori Homes and on purely Maori social occasions. It is a subject at University level and is sat in public examinations by a large number of pupils each year in New Zealand. It is true the increasing urbanization of the Maori people is bringing forth a new generation with very little opportunity to appreciate at first hand the values and cultural traditions of their forebears yet there are few Maoris who would not assert that even now their language is the corner stone of their identity as a proud warrior race.

The Nature of the Language

The Maori language is phonetic that is, it is pronounced generally speaking as it is spelled. There are fifteen letters in the Maori Alphabet. The vowels are a,e,i,o,u, and the consonants are h,k,m,n,ng,p,v,t,w,wh. The sounds 'ng' and 'wh' have been classed as letters because they form single sounds which are not represented exactly in the English Language.


The approximate sounds are:

a - as in mark (long 'a') or as in cut (short 'a')
e - as in bet (short 'e') or a sound in between bet and weight (long 'e')
i - as in feed (long 'i') or as in fit (short 'i')
o as in fork (long 'o') or as in violet (short 'o')
u - as in spoon (long 'u') or as in soot (short 'u')

Maori vowel sounds are very much more pure and rounded than the English equivalents.


These are pronounced much the same as in English. The following points should be noted.

r - the 'r' is not rolled
ng - this is a nasalised sound as in singing. It must NOT be pronounced as a straight 'n' sound or as the 'ng' in finger.
wh - the pronounciation of 'wh' is as a glided over 'f'.


A beginner attempting to pronounce Maori should divide difficult words into syllables and pronounce each syllable slowly at first and then more quickly until the whole word flows smoothly. A syllable in Maori is either a vowel on its own or a consonant followed by a vowel ('wh' and 'ng' count as single consonants).

Examples are:

Ngaruawahia - Nga-ru-wa-hi-a
Whangarei - Wha-nga-re-i (NOT WONG-GAR-RAY)


Maori words are generally emphasised slightly on the first syllable, e.g. tangata. Some compound words are given a greater degree on the second portion f the word, e.g. whakahoki.


1. Tahi
2. Rua
3. Toru
4. Wha
5. Rima
6. Ono
7. Whitu
8. Waru
9. Iwa
10. Tekau


Maori Language is central to the cultural identity of both the individual and the community to which he or she belongs. Not only does a language express the realities of a particular group, but it also marks one's membership of that group, both from within (since the language is shared) and without (since it highlights one's difference).

If a language is lost, the cultural identity of the group is considerably weakened, which in turn alters the very nature of the society of which that group is part. In light of this, it may be considered important to retain and promote the Maori language, in order, amongst other things, to develop a diverse and harmonious society.

~Mere Caesar, 2002

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