Māori or te reo
Māori ( ) commonly te reo ("the
language"), is the language of the indigenous population of
Zealand, the Maori people,
where it has is the status of an official language.
classify it within the Eastern Polynesian languages
being closely related to Cook
; somewhat less closely to
; and more distantly to the
languages of Western Polynesia, including Samoan
New Zealand has three official
— Māori, English
New Zealand Sign Language
. Māori gained this
status with the passing of the Māori Language Act
in 1987. Most
government departments and agencies have bilingual names, for
example, the Department of
Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua
, and places such as
local government offices and public libraries display bilingual
signs and use bilingual stationery. New
recognises Māori place-names in postal addresses
. Dealings with
government agencies may be conducted in Māori, but in practice this
almost always requires interpreter
restricting its everyday use to the limited geographical areas of
high Māori fluency, and to more formal occasions, such as during
An interpreter is on hand at sessions of Parliament
, in case a Member wishes
to speak in Māori. In 2008, Opposition parties held a filibuster
against a local government Bill, and
those who could recorded their voice votes in Māori, all faithfully
A 1994 ruling by the Privy Council
the United Kingdom held the New Zealand Government responsible
under the Treaty of Waitangi
(1840) for the preservation of the language. Accordingly since
March 2004, the state has funded Māori Television
, broadcast partly in
Māori. On 28 March 2008
Māori Television launched its second channel, Te Reo
, broadcast entirely in the Māori
language, with no advertising or subtitles.In 2008 Land Information New Zealand
published the first list of official place names with macrons,
which indicate long vowels. Previous place name lists were derived
from systems (usually mapping and GIS
that could not handle macrons.
to New Zealand as Eastern Polynesians
voyaging most likely from the Hawaiki or
from the Society
Islands, in seagoing canoe —
possibly double-hulled and probably sail-rigged.
settlers probably arrived by about AD 1200 (see Māori origins
. Their language and its dialects
developed in isolation until the 19th century.
Since about 1800 the Māori language has had a tumultuous history.
It started this period as the predominant language of New Zealand.
In the 1860s it became a minority
in the shadow of the English
spoken by settlers, missionaries,
gold seekers, and traders from a wide variety of ethnic
backgrounds. In the late 19th century the colonial governments of
New Zealand and its provinces introduced an English-style school
system for all New Zealanders, and from the 1880s the authorities
forbade the use of Māori in schools (possibly at the request of
, who appreciated the value
to their young people of fluent English — see Native Schools
). Increasing numbers of
Until World War II
Māori people spoke Māori as their first language. Worship took
place in Māori; it functioned as the language of Māori homes; Māori
politicians conducted political meetings in Māori; and some
literature and many newspapers appeared in Māori.
As late as the 1930s, some Māori parliamentarians suffered
disadvantage because Parliament's
proceedings took place
in English. From this period the number of speakers of Māori began
to decline rapidly. By the 1980s fewer than 20% of Māori spoke the
language well enough to be classed as native speakers. Even many of
those people no longer spoke Māori in the home. As a result, many
Māori children failed to learn their ancestral language, and
generations of non-Māori-speaking Māori emerged.
By the 1980s Māori leader
recognize the dangers of the loss of their language and initiated
Māori-language recovery-programs such as the Kōhanga Reo
movement, which from 1982 immersed
infants in Māori from infancy to school age. There followed in the
later 1980s the founding of the Kura Kaupapa Māori
, a primary-school
programme in Māori.
Comparative linguist classify Māori
as a Polynesian language;
specifically as an Eastern
Polynesian language belonging to the Tahitic subgroup, which includes Rarotongan, spoken in the southern
Islands, and Tahitian,
spoken in Tahiti and the
Islands. Other major Eastern Polynesian languages
include Hawaiian, Marquesan (languages in the Marquesic subgroup), and the Rapa Nui language of Easter Island
While the preceding are all distinct
languages, they remain similar enough that Tupaia
, a Tahitian travelling with
Captain James Cook
communicated effectively with Māori. Speakers of modern
Māori generally report that they find the languages of the Cook Islands, including Rarotongan, the easiest other Polynesian
languages to understand and converse in.
See also Austronesian languages
Nearly all speakers are ethnic Māori resident in New Zealand.
Estimates of the number of speakers vary: the 1996 census reported
160,000, while other estimates have reported as few as
50,000.According to the 2006 census, 131,613 Māori (23.7%) "could
[at least] hold a conversation about everyday things in te reo
Māori". In the same census, Māori speakers were 4.2% of the New
The level of competence of self-professed Māori speakers varies
from minimal to total. Statistics have not been gathered for the
prevalence of different levels of competence. Only a minority of
self-professed speakers use Māori as their main language in the
home. The rest use only a few words or phrases (passive bilingualism
Māori is a
community language in some predominantly-Māori settlements in the
Northland, Urewera and East Cape areas. Kohanga reo
throughout New Zealand use Māori exclusively. Increasing numbers of
Māori raise their children bilingually
Urbanisation after the Second World War led to widespread language
shift from Māori predominance (with Māori the primary language of
the rural whānau
) to English
predominance (English serving as the primary language in the
cities). Therefore Māori-speakers
almost always communicate bilingually, with New Zealand English
as either their
first or second language.
The percentage prevalence of the Māori language in the Māori
diaspora is far lower than in New Zealand. Census data from
show it as the home language of
5,504 people in 2001, or 7.5% of the Māori community in Australia.
This represents an increase of 32.5% since 1996.
The modern Māori alphabet has 20 letters, two of which are
digraphs: A Ā E Ē H I Ī K M N O Ō P R T U Ū W NG and WH.An
sometimes appears when writing the Southern
dialect, to indicate that the /k/ in question corresponds to the
of the standard language. Various methods are used to
indicate glottal stops when writing the Wanganui
dialect.Attempts to write Māori words
using the Roman alphabet
Captain James Cook and other early explorers, with varying degrees
of felicity. From 1814, missionaries tried to capture the sounds of
the language. William Kendall published a book in 1815 entitled
He Korao no New Zealand
, which in modern orthography and
usage would be He Kōrero nō Aotearoa
. Professor Samuel Lee, working with chief
Hongi Hika and Hongi's junior relative
Waikato at Cambridge University, established a definitive orthography based on
Northern usage in 1820.
Professor Lee's orthography
continues in use, with only two major changes: the addition of
to distinguish the bilabial voiceless fricative
from the labio-velar phoneme /w/;
and the consistent marking of long vowels. The macron
has become the generally accepted device for
marking long vowels (hāngi
), but at times the device of
double vowel letters was used (haangi
The Māori embraced literacy enthusiastically, and missionaries
reported in the 1820s that Māori all over the country taught each
other to read and write, using sometimes quite innovative materials
in the absence of paper, such as leaves and charcoal, carved wood,
Resolution of the problem of spelling long vowels
The alphabet devised at Cambridge University was deficient in that
it did not mark vowel length. The follow examples show that vowel
length is phonemic in Māori:
- ata 'morning', āta 'carefully'
- mana 'prestige', māna 'for him/her'
- manu 'bird', mānu 'float'
- o 'of', ō 'provisions for a journey'
Māori devised ways to mark vowel-length, sporadically at first.
Occasional and inconsistent vowel-length markings occur in
19th-century manuscripts and newspapers written by Māori, including
and the doubling of
letters. Sir Apirana Ngata
Grammar and Conversation
(7th printing 1953) uses macrons, but
only inconsistently. Once the Māori language started to be taught
in universities in the 1960s, vowel-length marking was made
systematic. At Auckland University, Professor Bruce Biggs
(of Ngāti Maniapoto
descent) promoted the
use of double vowels (thus Maaori
), and this became the
standard at Auckland until Biggs died in 2000. But the use of
macrons was promoted by other universities and eventually by the
, established by the Māori Language Act 1987 as the
authority for Māori spelling and orthography.
Māori has five phonemically distinct vowel articulations and ten
Although it is commonly claimed that vowel realisations
(pronunciations) in Māori show little variation, linguistic
research has shown this not to be the case.
Vowel length is phonemic; but four of the five long vowels occur in
only a handful of word roots, the exception being /ā/. As noted
above, it has recently become standard in Māori spelling to
indicate a long vowel by a macron.
As in many other Polynesian languages, there are no diphthongs in
Māori (when two vowels are adjacent, each belongs to a different
syllable), and all or nearly all sequences of nonidentical vowels
are possible. All sequences of nonidentical short vowels occur and
are phonemically distinct.
The following table shows the five vowel phonemes and the
allophones for some of them according to Bauer 1997. Some of these
phonemes occupy large spaces in the anatomical "vowel triangle"
(actually a trapezoid) of tongue positions. For example, /u/ is
sometimes realised (pronounced) as IPA [u].
The consonant phonemes of Māori are listed in the following table.
Seven of the ten Māori consonant letters
have the same pronunciation as they do in the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA
). For those that do not,
the IPA phonetic
is included, enclosed in square brackets per IPA
convention. Māori stops /p, t, k/ are nonaspirated, unlike in
English. Māori /r/ is a tap
or very similar to the /r/ in Spanish
and to the r
in "very" in
many dialects of England (and slightly less similar to the
in the American
pronunciation of "cit
The pronunciation of /wh
/ is extremely
variable, but its most common pronunciation (its canonical
allophone) is the labiodental
, IPA found in English
. Another allophone is the bilabial
fricative, IPA , which is usually supposed
to be the sole pre-European pronunciation, although in fact
linguists are not sure of the truth of this supposition.
Because English stops /p, t, k/ primarily have aspiration, speakers
of English often hear the Māori nonaspirated stops as English /b,
d, g/. English speakers also tend to hear Māori /r/ as English /l/.
of hearing have given rise to place-name spellings which are
incorrect in Maori, like Tolaga Bay in the North Island and Otago
and Waihola in the South
in Māori have one of the
following forms: V, VV, CV, CVV
. This set of four
can be summarized by the notation, (C)V(V)
which the segments in parentheses may or may not be present. A
syllable cannot begin with two consonant sounds (the
represent single consonant sounds
and cannot end in a consonant, although some speakers may
occasionally devoice a final vowel. All possible
combinations are grammatical, though
, and whu
in a few loanwords from English such as wuru
, "wool" and
As in many other Polynesian languages, e.g., Hawaiian, the
rendering of loanwords from English includes representing every
English consonant of the loanword (using the scanty native
consonant inventory; English has 24 consonants to 10 for Māori) and
breaking up consonant clusters. For example, "Presbyterian" has
been borrowed as Perehipeteriana
; no consonant position in
the loanword has been deleted, but /s/ and /b/ have been replaced
with /h/ and /p/, respectively.)
Biggs proposed that historically there were two major dialect
groups, North Island and South Island. South Island Māori is
extinct Biggs has analysed North Island Māori as comprising a
western group and an eastern group with the boundary between them
running pretty much along the island's north-south axis.
Within these broad divisions regional variations occur, and
individual regions show tribal variations. The major differences
occur in the pronunciation of words, variation of vocabulary, and
idiom. A fluent speaker of Māori has no problem understanding
dialects other than their own.
There is no significant variation in grammar between dialects.
Vocabulary and pronunciation vary to a greater extent, but this
does not pose barriers to communication.
North Island dialects
southwest of the island, in the Wanganui (native spelling Whanganui) and Taranaki regions, the phoneme /h/ is a glottal stop and the phoneme /wh/ is
[ʔw]. In Tūhoe
and the Eastern Bay of
Plenty (northwestern North Island) ng has merged
In parts of the Far North, wh
merged with w
South Island dialects
In the extinct South Island dialects, ng
. Thus Kāi Tahu
and Ngāi Tahu
variations in the name of the same tribe (the latter form is the
one used in acts of Parliament). Since 2000, the government has
altered the official names of several southern place names to the
southern dialect forms by replacing ng
New Zealand's highest mountain, known for centuries as
in southern Māori dialects that merge ng
, and as Aorangi
by other Māori, was later
named "Mount Cook", in honor of Captain
. Now its sole official name is Aoraki/Mount
Cook, which favors the local dialect form.
Dunedin's main research library, the Hocken
Library, has the name Te Uare Taoka o Hākena
rather than northern Te Whare Taonga o
Biggs (Biggs 1998) developed an analysis that the basic unit of
Māori speech is the phrase, rather than the word. The lexical word
forms the "base" of the phrase. "Nouns" include those bases that
can take a definite article, but cannot occur as the nucleus of a
verbal phrase; for example:ika
(fish) or rākau
(tree). Plurality is usually marked only by the definite article
, plural ngā
). Some nouns lengthen a
vowel in the plural, such as wahine
Statives serve as bases usable as verbs but not available for
passive use, such as ora
, alive, tika
Grammars generally refer to them as "stative verbs". When used in
sentences, statives require different syntax than other verb-like
can follow the locative particle
(to, towards) directly, such as runga
, outside, and placenames (ki Tamaki
bases take the personal article
, such as names of people (ki a
, to Joseph), personified houses, personal pronouns,
who? and Mea
Like all Polynesian languages, Māori has a rich array of particles.
These include verbal particles, pronouns, locative particles,
definitives and possessives.
Verbal particles indicate aspectual properties of the verb they
relate to. They include ka
and when"), and e … ana
Pronouns have singular, dual and plural number. Different
first-person forms in the dual and in the plural express groups
either inclusive or exclusive of the listener.
Locative particles refer to position in time and/or space, and
position), and hei
Possessives fall into one of two classes marked by a
, depending on the dominant versus subordinate
relationship between possessor and possessed, so ngā tamariki a
, the children of the parent, but te matua o ngā
, the parent of the children.
Definitives include the articles te
(plural) and the possessives tā
. These also combine with the pronouns. Demonstratives
have a deictic function, and include tēnei
, this (near
, that (near you), tērā
, that (far from
us both), and taua
, the aforementioned. Other definitives
(which?), and tētahi
certain).Definitives that begin with t
form the plural by
dropping the t
Like other Polynesian languages, Māori has three numbers
for pronouns and possessives:
For example: ia
(they, three or more). The dual and plural suffixes
are modern reflexes of historical words rua
. Māori pronouns and possessives further distinguish
exclusive "we" from inclusive "we", second and third. It has the
plural pronouns: mātou
(we, exc), tātou
(they). The language
features the dual pronouns: māua
(we two, exc),
(we two, inc), kōrua
(they two). The difference between exclusive and inclusive
lies the treatment of the
person addressed. Mātou
refers to the speaker and others
but not the person or persons spoken to (i.e.
, "I and some
others, but not you"), while tātou
refers to the speaker,
the person or persons spoken to, and everyone else (i.e.
"you and I and others"). Examples:
- Tēnā koe: hello (to one person)
- Tēnā kōrua: hello (to two people)
- Tēnā koutou: hello (to more than two people)
Qualifiers generally follow nouns.
From missionary times, Māori used transliterations of English names
for days of the week and for months of the year. Since about 1990
the Māori Language Commission / Te Taura Whiri o te Reo Māori has
promoted new ("traditional") sets. Its days of the week have no
pre-European equivalent but reflect the pagan origins of the
English names (for example, Hina = moon), the months of the year on
one regional traditional calendar which, being lunar, does not
quite match the Julian/Gregorian months.
- New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General  1 NZLR
- Biggs, Bruce (1994). "Does Māori have a closest relative?" In
Sutton (Ed.)(1994), pp. 96-105
- Clark, Ross (1994). "Moriori and Māori: The Linguistic
Evidence". In Sutton (Ed.)(1994), pp. 123-135.
- Harlow, Ray (1994). "Māori Dialectology and the Settlement of
New Zealand". In Sutton (Ed.)(1994), pp. 106-122.
- (revised 2007)
- Bauer 1993: 537. Bauer mentions that Biggs 1961 announced a
- Bauer 1997: 536. Bauer even raised the possibility of analysing
Māori as really having six vowel phonemes, /a, ā, e, i, o, u/.
- Harlow 1996: 1; Bauer 1997: 534
- Bauer 1997: 532 lists seven allophones (variant
- Biggs 1988: 65
- Bauer 1997: xxvi
- "Most of the tribal variation in grammar is a matter of
preferences: speakers of one area might prefer one grammatical form
to another, but are likely on occasion to use the non-preferred
form, and at least to recognise and understand it." Bauer 1993:
- Biggs, Bruce (1994). Does Māori have a closest
relative? In Sutton (ed.)(1994), pp. 96–105.
- Biggs, Bruce (1998). Let's Learn Māori. Auckland:
Auckland University Press.
- Biggs, Bruce. 1988. Towards the study of Maori dialects. In Ray
Harlow and Robin Hooper, eds. VICAL 1: Oceanic languages.
Papers from the Fifth International Conference on Austronesian
linguistics. Auckland, New Zealand. January
1988, Part I. Auckland: Linguistic Society of New
- Bauer, Winifred (1997). Reference Grammar of Māori.
- Bauer, Winifred. 1993. Maori. Routledge. Series:
Routledge descriptive grammars.
- Clark, Ross (1994). Moriori and Māori: The Linguistic
Evidence. In Sutton (ed.)(1994), pp. 123–135.
- Harlow, Ray. 1996. Maori. LINCOM Europa.
- Harlow, Ray (1994). Māori Dialectology and the Settlement
of New Zealand. In Sutton (ed.)(1994), pp. 106–122.
- Sutton, Douglas G. (ed.) (1994). The Origins of the First
New Zealanders. Auckland: Auckland University Press.