January 14, 2011


Te reo Māori (the Māori language) is spoken by the Māori people of New Zealand.

Around the year 1300 AD, seven boats containing the Māori people left their home in Rangeātia, Tahiti and travelled to Aotearoa (literally, the land of the long white cloud, and later called New Zealand). Six boats settled in the North Island and one in the South Island. The Māori people were warriors, and are known for the haka (performed internationally by New Zealand rugby teams), poi dancing, tattoos, carving, and weaving.
In written Māori there are 5 vowels: a, e, i, o, u
10 consonants/diagraphs: p, t, k, m, n, ng, wh, h, w, r
  • Short vowels are pronounced as /a, e, i, ɔ, u/
  • Long vowels are indicated with a macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū
  • Long and short vowels are phonemic. For example, keke (cake), kekē (creak), kēkē (armpit).
  • The consonant ‘t’ sounds like /t/ before the vowels i and u, but /d/ before the vowels a, e, o
  • ‘wh’ is pronounced as ‘f’(or possibly a bilabial fricative, such as found in Japanese)
  • ‘r’ is a tap/flap, but there are dialectal differences
Important words

  • kia ora (welcome)
  • tēnā koe (hello to one person), tēnā kōrua (hello to two people), tēnā koutou (hello to three or more people)
  • tēnā koe (thankyou to one person), tēnā kōrua (thankyou to two people), tēnā koutou (thankyou to three or more people)
A Māori proverb I like is:

  • Ui mai koe ki ahau he aha te mea nui o te ao, Māku e kī atu he tangata, he tangata, he tangata! (Ask me what is the greatest thing in the world, I will reply: It is people, it is people, it is people)
Staff and information at the Te Puia Māori Cultural Centre, Rotorua
Niwa, H. (2009). Pronounce Māori with confidence. Auckland: Reed Publishing.
Reed, A. W. (2001) The Reed concise Māori dictionary (6th ed). Auckland: Reed Publishing.

Sharynne and Jessica talking with a Maori elder who has worked in early childhood education throughout her life. We were at at Te Puia, the Maori Cultural Centre in Rotorua