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Grammar of the New Zealand Language

Chapter I. — of the — Pronunciation of Maori

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Chapter I.
of the
Pronunciation of Maori.

The Letters of Maori are as Follows:

A. a as in fall fat.
E. e as a in acorn.
H. ha.
I. i as i in French or ee in sleep.
K. ka.
M. ma.
N. na.
O. o.
P. pa.
R. ra.
T. ta.
U. u.
W. wa.
NG. nga.

Of the Sounds of the Vowels.


Has three sounds; the slender, somewhat broader' and the full broad sound.


The slender, as in hat, pat


The somewhat broader; as in mar, far, father.


The full broad; as in wall, hall, &c.

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The following is a list of words classified under these heads:
patu, to strike.patu, partition of a house
mătua, a father.mātua. fathers.whana, to kick.
mărama, the moon.mārama, tight.wahi, a place.
taki, to drag a canoe in water.taki, take from the fire.whaki, to confess.
matenga, death.matenga, headware, a plebeian.
tăringa, ear.tāringa, waiting for.
păkaru, broken.pākarua. v. p. broken
pakeke, hard.pakeke, to creek.
tăngata, a man.tāngata, men.
tahu. to burn.tahuhu, a ridgepole.whare, a house.

The second and third head differ but little from each, other, and it sometimes may be difficult to decide under which of the two the sound should be classed.

The reader is requested to notice that the distinctions above made, are not founded so much on the length of the sound, as on the differences of the sounds themselves. If the length of the sound be considered, other classes, (at least two,) might easily be established; but the learner would, we fear, be more perplexed than benefitted by the addition.

The speaker should remember that in some compound words the last syllable of the first word, if it end in a, is pronounced strong; e g.

Patungā-poaka; place where pigs are killed. Mahingā-kai; a cultivation; Matā-pu; the lead of a gun, a bullet; Ta te tutuā tu; the plebeian's manners.

Note.—There are exceptions to this rule which it would be well for the student of observation to notice.

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In pronouncing such words as kata, mata, tata, the speaker must be careful not to slur over the first a, as if it were keta, meta, &c. It should be pronounced clearly and distinctly.


Is pronounced as a in bate, hate, &c., only not quite so slow, or so broad. Perhaps the final e in the French words café, felicité, would be a closer resemblance; e.g., koe, rea, re, kete, mate, tenei, rere

(2.) As e in poetical, there; e.g, tena, renga-renga, kete, rere.

Few sounds in Maori are more frequently mis-pronounced by foreigners than e. Tohe, ngare, kumea, hoea mai te waka, te reinga, te rangi. rewera, korero, have been all so carelessly pronounced as to sound to the native ear as if spelt, tohi, ngari, kumia, hoia mai ti waka, to reinga, to rangi, Rewara, kororo. The reader should also be careful not to give e the dipthongal sound of ei; as in ne the interrogative particle, &c.


I is pronounced like the French i; as ee in sleep, green, &c.; when distinctly and fully pronounced it imparts much melodiousness to the sentence; e.g. ariki, kīki, to chatter, &c.

In the following it has a shorter sound: kĭki, crowded; mĭti, tĭti, &c.

N. B —The speaker should be careful not to confound i with the Maori e; as in such words as wakatoi, hoi, &c.


Has a long and a short sound, a long; as toto, to drag.

A short; as toto, blood.

N. B.—We have no sound in Maori to correspond to the o in not, hot, pot, &c.

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This sound is also uniform in kind, and always corresponds to oo in book, &c. It sometimes, however, experiences a more quick, sometimes a more slow pronunciation.

The following table exhibits two variations beginning with the shorter:—
t[gap — reason: unclear]uri, a knee.tūtū, disobedient.
t[gap — reason: unclear]ut[gap — reason: unclear]u, same as tupakihi of Ngapuhi.tūtū (manu), a birdstand.
k[gap — reason: unclear]uk[gap — reason: unclear]u, a shell.kūkū, a pigeon
k[gap — reason: unclear]uhu.tūtūa.
[gap — reason: unclear]utŭ, to pay.ūtu, to draw water.

In pronouncing u the speaker will have to guard against the error of those who prefix the aspirate when no aspirte is admissible. Accoridng to them u, utu, &c., are pronounced as if spelt hu, hutu.

He will also have to beware of the more common and stubbora error of giving u the dipthongal sound of u in cube, tube, mute, &c.—Tonu, ketu, tonutia, are, in this way, pronounced as if spelt toniu, toniutia, ketiu.

U, again, is sometimes, by careless speakers, confounded with o, and vice versa. Thus ihu, nose; niho, tooth; have been erroneously pronounced as if spelt iho, nihu

Of the Dipthongs.

This portion of Maori literture has been as yet but little explored; and as each person's notions will very with the acuteness of his ear, and the extent to which his judgment has been exercised, we may be prepared to expect a considerable discrepancy of opinion.

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We shall therefore proceed with caution, and offer only what may be most useful, and most necessary for the student.

The field of discussion may be much limited if we first define what we mean by the word “dipthong.”

The best definition we can find, and the one most suited to the nature of the dipthong, is, we think, that of Mr Smith, in Walker. “A dipthong,” he says, “I would define to be two simple vocal sounds uttered by one and the same emission of breath, and joined in such a manner that each loses a portion of its natural length; but from the junction produceth a compound sound equal in the time of pronouncing to either of them taken separately, and so making still but one syllable.”

Following this definition, three tests for a dipthong suggest themselves.


The emission of the two sounds by the same breath.


Their amalgamation, or more correctly, their coalescing; for each vowel in the Maori dipthong is distinctly heard.


The abbreviation of the natural length of each simple sound.

In applying these rules to the dipthongs, it will be perhaps most prudent to divide them, under the present imperfect state of our knowledge, into two classes. 1. The certain, or those of the dipthongal character of which there can be but little question. 2. The doubtful, or those upon which inquirers may be likely to entertain different opinions.

The dipthongs which we consider certain, are as follows:

aa, ae, ai, ao, au, ee, ei, ii, oo, ou, uu.

On, these we will offer a few remarks.

Those dipthongs which are formed by a double letter, such as ea, are distinguished by a stronger and fuller sound; as in Wakaaro, rapuutu. &c.

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Is a sound for which it is difficult to find a parallel in English, and which most speakers confound with at in such words as waewae, waeroa, paewae, &c.

The English aye comes perhaps closer to it. It must be pronounced broad and open, and care must be taken to keep out the squeezed sound of the i.


May be well represented by the i in shine.


Has no representative in English that we are aware of. In pronouncing it, the speaker must be careful to let the o be distinctly, but not too prominently, heard; and considerable care will be required to keep it distinct from au in the following words, as otawhao, whawhao, tao, hao, &c.: neither again must the speaker divide the dipthong into two syllables, as some speakers do in otaota, &c.


May be pronounced like ou in drought, trout, pound, &c.


May be represented by the ai in hail, pail, &c. Care must be taken not to suppress altogether the i, as is sometimes done in such words as tenei, penei, &c.


Is a sound of some difficulty. There is no sound that we are aware of in the English language that exactly corresponds to it. Low, sow, mow, &c., may be made to resemble it, by pronouncing them slowly, and letting the sound die away into u.

Most foreigners are apt to pronounce it as a simple o. The first syllable of koutou is one of very difficult pronunciation. page 7 Without great care it will be variously pronounced, as if koitou kotou, or kutu.

By not attending to these distinctions the speaker will often lose the benefit of a good thought. A speaker, guarding his hearers against spiritual temptations, borrowed his illustration from a poukaka (the perch for the parrot by which it is caught,) telling them that Satan often presents ponkakas to attract them to ruin; unfortunately, however, instead of poukaka he used pokaka, a squall of wind and rain, and only expressed his point by exciting their risibility.

The doubtful class of dipthongs are mau, (as in mau, for thee, tau, thy,) ai, (as in maia, brave) ea, eo, eu, io, iu,

On these we do not wish at present to make many observations. We believe that there is a considerable difference amongst Maori speakers respecting them. Our own idea is, that there may be a few occasions on which some might be considered dipthongs; and that those occasions are, the position of the syllable, whether at the end of the word, or elsewhere, as also whether it come under the influence of the accent.

We cannot dismiss this subject without mentioning two particulars, very necessary to be remembered by all who wish to attain to an accurate pronunciation of Maori. First, as it is in English, every sentence is to be pronounced as if one word. 2. Homogeneous vowels will, when they meet almost always run into a dipthong.

The following sentence, koia i whiriwhiria ai e ia to ratou uri, would be thus pronounced by a native, koiai-whiri-whiriai-eia-to-ratouri. Koia ia i riri ai would run, koiai-aiririai.

This subject of homogeneous vowels coalescing into dipthongs. is one which has not received the attention it merits.

Of the Consonants.


This is the same as the English h.

It is not however known on the western coast of New Zealand to the southward of Mokau, in the district of Taranaki. Its place is supplied by a curious stammer or jirk of the voice. A gentle sibilancy accompanies its pronunciation amongst Ngapuhi, which some speakers erroneously confound with sk.

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K has the sound of the English k; as in kill, &c.

M. N. P.

M, N, P, have the same sound as in English.


R has two sounds: (1) rough; as in rain, river, &c. e. g., kahore, rorea, roro, roto.

(2) The second is more soft, and is formed by a gentle jar of the tongue against the palate; so gentle indeed is the vibration, that most foreigners pronounce it like d or l, as in raro, ruru, rimu, pouaru, pari, muri, mariri, koiri, korikori, kouru, maru.


This is a letter which few Europeans prouonce correctly. It is not pronounced like the t in temper, tea, &c.; but rather like the sharp th of apathy, sympathy, Athens, apothecary. Those who watch a native's tongue while pronouncing this letter, will find that the rule for attaining this sound is, to apply the tongue, not to the root, but to the top of the teeth, and hardly emit a.


Has two sounds, one simple, as that in wind? &c., e.g., wai, water, waka, a canoe, ware, a plebeian.

2. An aspirated w, as in when, where, &c.; whai, follow, whare, a house, &c.


The speaker should be careful, in uttering this sound not to separate the n from the g, as is sometimes done by foreigners. The n and g intimately coalesce, and those who have learned to pronounce the French encore will find no difficulty in catching it. The following rule will, we trust, help the beginner.

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Press the middle of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, near the throat, and simultaneously relax the pressure, and pronounce na. Of course care must be taken that the tip of the tongue does not touch the palate.*

Following is a table setting forth a few of the variations in pronunciation of the leading dialects of New Zealand.

It will be observed that the name of a place is employed to denote the dialect for which that place and its vicinity are remarkable.

Ngapuhi. Waikato. East Cape. Rotorua. Taupo. Taranaki.
Keri Keri Kari Kari Kari
Tatou Tatou Tatau Tatau Tatou & Tatau Tatou
Matou Matou Matau Matau Matou & Tatau Matou
Ratou Ratou Ratau Ratau Ratou & Tatau Ratou
Koro & Korua Korua
Koutou Koutou Koutau Koutau Koutou & Koutau Koutou
Taua or Tao Taua Taua Taua
Maua or Mao Maua Maua Maua
Raua or Rao Raua Raua Roua
Hei Hei Hai Hai Hai & Hei Ei
Kei Kei Kai Kai Kai & Kei Kei
Tutei Tutai Tuai Tutai Tutai Tutei
Wha Wa
Maoa Maia Maoa Maia & Maoa
Hohou Whawhau Hohou & Whawhua O-ou
Teina Teina Taina Taina Teina Teina
Tarai Tarai Tarei Tarei Tarai
Heoi Heoti Heoti Eoi & Eoti
Kua Kua Koua Kua & Koua Ku
Kia Kia Kia Kia Kia Ki
Horo Hohoro O-oro
Topa Tao Tao Tao
Roa Ro
Tonu Tonu Tou

See also the letters ng and h.

* This sound is not known in the Bay of Plenty. Its place is supplied by a simple n, further southward by k.