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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 3 (July 1, 1933)

Variety in Brief

page 63

Variety in Brief

Visitors to New Zealand often express their difficulty in pronouncing Maori place names, but the native-born New Zealander, with less excuse, exhibits his ignorance in almost every Maori word he pronounces. The lack of the training of our school teachers in Maori pronunciation is a contributory cause to this ignorance, while the difficulty is enhanced by the fact that nowadays, especially in the South Island, there are practically no opportunities for hearing the language spoken. Printed rules are all very well, but they lead to many misunderstandings, and are pitfalls for the unwary. It is frequently stated, for instance, that there is no accent in a Maori word. This is completely wrong. The error is no doubt due to the enunciation of the principle that every Maori vowel must be given its full value. The difficulty to the English tongue is that when a sylable is stressed in English the vowel is lengthened, whereas in Maori this is not done. The general rule in Maori is that the first syllable is accented, e.g., ra'ngatira, chief; ta'ngata, man. When, however, the causal prefix whaka- is used, the prefix is unaccented and the accent remains on the first syllable of the root word, e.g., whakata'ne. When in Maori a word is formed by doubling the last two syllables of a tri-syllabic word, the first syllable is invariably long, and there is a secondary accent on the second and fourth syllables, e.g., āwhi'owhi'o.

Another aid to correct Maori pronunciation is to remember the fact that every Maori syllable is open, i.e., ends with a vowel. A knowledge of this simple fact would prevent the mispronunciations of such place names as that of the South Island mining town of Kaitangata, which is invariably pronounced as Kai-tang-ata. The correct pronunciation is easily seen when the word is correctly divided into syllables, Kai-tanga-ta. It is necessary to add that there is no short sound of a in Maori like the a in the English sang; a is always pronounced as in păpā, the long ā is simply a prolongation of the short ă. The consonantal ng is not guttural and hard, but has the soft nasal sound of the ng in singing.

A frequent source of confusion is found also in the apparent diphthongs ai, ae, au, ou, ei. Strictly speaking, these are not diphthongs at all, and each letter in each pair should be given its full sound, the sound of the first letter gliding into the second without a distinct break in the flow of sound. The orthography of Maori words is defective in one particular, in that the sign for a lengthened vowel is a doubled letter, e.g., ā is written as aa, ē as ee, ō as oo. A page 64 prevalent example of the consequent confusion is the name of the Maori prophet Te Kooti, which is usually pronounced with the sound of oo in the Scottish coo, meaning cow. The correct pronounciation is Te Koti, with the vowel sound of the English vowel in coat, from which it was probably derived.—“Rotia.”

* * *

Hori was the owner of an ancient and very delapidated motor truck, and was engaged on a contract for the delivery of the milk from a number of the dairy farms in the district to the local cheese factory. One morning as I was travelling behind him in my car, I noticed a really alarming wobble in one of the rear wheels of the vehicle. I spurted in order to warn him of the impending disaster, and perceived, on approaching, a large notice-board nailed to the tail-door and bearing the words: “This wheel quite safe. He won't come off.”

Later on I ventured to question him about it. “Te axle bent,” he announced, “an' no time an' no money to fix him. Yesterday mornin' one fella he pull up an' tell me te wheel wobble. I t'ank him. Then another stop me, an' I t'ank him too. After that I get a bit mad, an' in teend I half hour late with te milk. Then I think about te notice. Jolly good idea, too.”—A.S.

* * *

Never trust a woman. Least of all, a romantic one. She will subsequently reveal, through laughter and tears, the passionate speeches of hot-blooded romance. At all events, she recounted this one: He who courted her was born to the tang of the wide open spaces and not to the tongue of Romeo; he was skilled in wool and mooings, and not in words and wooings. Dogs were his favourite flower, so to speak. (Sounds a bit Alexanderish, that does.) They walked in silence the long, painful walk of the tongue-tied man and the Eve-eyed woman, and in silence they sat them down on a backblocks stump. The stage was set for Romance. Vistas, trees, breeze, and the soft fall of evening. He struggled for words, wriggled for words, sweated for words, words that would not come. She waited coyly. Only her heart beats broke the pregnant stillness. Would he never speak? At last they came. Glorious words. Nervously he touched her listless hand. His eyes appealed. His lips parted…. “Er—er—er—–‘Oggets Is Up.“—Pumice.

* * *

The par about Hihitahi in the “Railways Magazine” (1/4/33) reminds me of an old aunt of mine who had just as much difficulty with the word as the English travellers mentioned. We were living up that way then, but familiarity never gave the dear old lady any greater facility with the pronunciation, and to the end of her days she used to call it “Hittititti.”—“Rikko.'