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The Coming of the Maori

The Glottal Closure

The Glottal Closure

In compiling the alphabets, a serious omission was made through the failure to realize the importance of what has been termed the glottal closure. The glottal closure, which is present in most dialects, is a slight catch in the spoken word and represents a consonant sound which has been dropped. Again, the early compilers may be excused, because the fact that the glottal closure represented definite consonants in each dialect was not ascertained until material for comparative study had been made available. The process of finding out what consonant a glottal closure represents may be illustrated by comparing the words for canoe in different dialects. The written word for canoe in Maori is waka; in Rarotongan, vaka; in Hawaiian, waa; and in Samoan, vaa. In the spoken word, however, Hawaiian and Samoan have the glottal closure between the two vowels. As Maori and Rarotongan have no glottal closure in waka and vaka, it is obvious that, for this particular word, the glottal closure in Hawaiian and Samoan represents a dropped k. Further comparisons prove that the k in all Maori and Rarotongan words is invariably represented by the glottal closure in Hawaiian and Samoan speech and, furthermore, that the glottal closure in these two dialects is not used for any other consonant In Tahitian, as representative of the Society Islands dialect, the position is more complicated. The name for canoe is vaa with a glottal closure between the vowels, hence it represents a dropped k, as in Hawaiian and Samoan. However, the Tahitian word rai (sky) with a glottal between the two vowels corresponds to the Maori and Rarotongan word rangi (sky). On testing further with Maori and Rarotongan words containing the ng sound, the corresponding words in Tahitian are found to have the glottal closure instead of the ng sound. Thus the Tahitian glottal closure represents the two dropped consonants k and ng, but, as there is no difference in the sound of the glottal closure, the distinction between k and ng can be determined only by comparison with similar words in dialects in which the k and ng are retained. Whether the glottal represents a k or an ng does not bother the Tahitian but linguistic students experience more difficulty when the glottal represents more than one consonant. The dialect of the Austral Islands is still page 77more curious because it followed the Society Islands in using the glottal closure for k and ng and the Cook Islands in using it for h.

The consonants represented by the glottal closure in various areas are as follows:

k: Society Islands, Australs, Hawaii, and Samoa.
ng: Society Islands, Australs.
h: Cook Islands, Australs, Mangareva, and some Maori tribes of the west coast.
r: Marquesas (some islands).

It is evident that the Polynesian dialects cannot be adequately written without some symbol to represent the glottal closure. Instead of restoring the symbols of the consonants which are not sounded in speech, the linguists adopted the inverted comma superior to the position in the written word that would have been occupied by the consonant it represents. Thus the written word for canoe in Hawaiian and Samoan would be wa'a and va'a instead of waa and vaa. This symbol is termed the hamza. The need for the hamza is illustrated by the Cook Islands word ua, which as written represents four different words that cannot be distinguished from each other without the use of the hamza.

As written With hamza With h inserted Meaning
ua ua ua rain, neck
ua 'ua hua fruit, egg
ua u'a uha female (of animal)
ua 'u'a huha thigh