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The Coming of the Maori



The pronunciation of Maori words is easy as compared with English. The vowels offer no difficulty once it is understood that the letter i represents the ee sound of English and the letter e has the eh sound as in French. The main difficulty is to know whether they are long or short and the use of diacritical marks involves too much expense in printing to become a routine procedure in recording native texts. The consonants offer some initial difficulty in mastering the double consonants wh and ng. Thus wh is distinct from the Polynesian f which is like the English f in touching the lower lip with the front teeth. It is pronounced like wh in what and where. The use of the English f sound for wh such as fafai for whawhai (to fight) is a post-European development adopted by some tribes. The ng sound is usually pronounced erroneously as n by foreigners. In pronouncing n both in Maori and in English, the tongue touches the roof of the mouth but in the Maori ng the tongue must be kept down. The Maori t is slightly different to the English t in which the tongue touches the palate back from the teeth whereas in the Maori t, the tongue goes forward to touch the back of the front teeth.

Each consonant must be followed by a vowel to form a syllable and hence no syllable or word can end on a consonant nor can two consonants come together except of course wh and ng which represent single con-page 76sonants. A common error in English attempts to pronounce Maori words is to end a syllable on an intermediate consonant and so divorce it from the following vowel as tam-a instead of ta-ma. Errors of pronunciation are particularly noticeable in words with the consonant ng which is often split into ng and g, the ng ending the preceding syllable and g starting off the next syllable. Thus the place name Whangaehu is correctly split into four syllables as Wha-nga-e-hu. By following the rule such atrocities as Wong-gae(gy)-hoo would be avoided.