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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)


It has been suggested that some explanation of the New Zealand railway station names which are Maori would be of much interest to many readers of this Magazine. Travellers naturally inquire the meaning of the native words which form the greater proportion of the names of railway stations, and for the most part their questions go unanswered. The pronunciation of the language is also a puzzle to many, although it is in reality so simple and so easily acquired. Many names are popularly mispronounced, often because when an accent occurs it is wrongly placed. Maori is phonetic in form, thanks to the excellent system adopted by the pioneer missionaries in the North who reduced the language to writing. Once the vowel values are learned there is little difficulty in pronunciation. There are no silent vowels.

Vowels have two values, a full sound and a short. Examples: Long a as in Kāwiti, Kākā short a as in Katikati. The ordinary long sound of e is heard in pehea (pay-hay-ah), hoé (ho-ay); short e as in the English words “pet,” “send,” “ferry”: examples, méré, (merray), peke (pekkay). I is pronounced as ee in “keep,” “sheep.” Examples: Ariki (ah-ree-kee), miere (mee-eh-ray). Short sound of i as in piri, kiri. O is pronounced as in the English word “note.” Rotorua should be pronounced Ro-toh-roo-ah, not Rot-or-rooah, as often heard. U is pronounced as oo as in “cool,” “pool,” and as u in “pull.” Examples: puta (poo-tah), pure (pooray), puke (poo-kay), hue (hoo-ay).

The dipthong ai is pronounced much as i in “high,” “sigh,” “shine.” Examples: kai, mai, tai.Ae is given a broader sound in which each vowel should be given its value; waewae should not be sounded as waiwai, but more like the broad Scottish “aye.”

Ao is distinct from au, which is a shorter, sharper sound. The vowels in the names Aotearoa and Aorangi are generally mispronounced. The correct values are learned by saying slowly Ah-oh-tay-ah-ro-ah; Ah-oh-rah-ngee.

The exact placing of the emphasis on a particular syllable can only be learned by practice. In Matata (railway station name) the last a is pronounced long. The name Putaruru is usually mispronounced, something like “p'tarra-roo.” It should be sounded “Poo-tah-roo-roo,” without marked accent on any particular syllable.