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The Story of a Maori Chief

A Simple Lesson in Maori Pronunciation

page 103

A Simple Lesson in Maori Pronunciation

Pronunciation of Maori is exceedingly simple compared with other languages, for it is a purely phonetic language, and yet mispronunciation of it by Europeans is painful. They simply don't care, and yet I have been corrected for mispronouncing German and French words. We have Maori place names all around us.

To pronounce Maori it is essential to master the sounds of the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and to accentuate the first syllable of a word, except in the case of some words with what is called the causative prefix whaka, when the accent falls on the third syllable—that is, the first syllable of the root word. For example, in the word whakamate (to destroy) the accent falls on ma, the first syllable of the word mate.

The best way, for most people, to learn the vowel sounds is by using examples in English. A Maori vowel has but one sound, although the sound may be either short or long:—Short a as in amiss, long a as in father; short e as in pet, long e as in fed;1 short i as in pit, long i as in feed; short o as in saw, long o as in sawn;1 short u as in put, long u as in food. A is never as in hat or hate; e is never as in eat or eel; i is never as in bite; o is never as in obey, oh, pole or halloo; u is never as in cut or cute.

Because of the wrong sound given to the vowel a the words Taranaki, Waikato, Matamata, Otaki, etc., are, as a rule, mispronounced by Europeans, particularly by air announcers. The vowel e meets with a similar fate, despite the fact that the English e is more often sounded like the Maori e, e.g., ten, enter, amend, etc. Pakehas never dream of pronouncing the words as teen, eenter, ameend.

Why Bishop Williams adopts in his Maori Grammar the French word fété to illustrate the Maori e sound I don't know, unless he follows the Anglicised pronunciation fate. In this case he must sound the Maori e as ay, which no Maori would accept. This un-Maori sound given to the vowel e has led astray English writers. Te is not tay. Take, for instance, the word ten, and by cutting out the n you have the correct pronunciation. It is certainly not tay. Professor Arnold Wall, led astray in his New Zealand English, tells us to pronounce Awatea as Awataya. No Maori would accept that. Curiously enough and unprofessorlike, he tells us to pronounce weka as wěka, which is correct. but weta as wayta. To be consistent he should pronounce weka as way-ka.

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In regard to the Maori o we find the nearest sound to it in the words saw and awe—most positively not in pole. Surely po (night) has not the same sound as po in pole.

The consonants h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, ng, wh have no sound unless a consonant is followed by a vowel—it is the vowel that gives a consonant its sound. Ng and wh are single letters. Sound ng as in si-ng and it is never hard, as in gate. Sound wh as in when, never as f. To sound wh like f is certainly degenerate Maori.

The initials of the name Whare Ngatai are Wh. Ng., not W. N.

1 Both the e in fed and the a in sawn are short, therefore the student is asked to arbitrarily sound them long, as indicated.