Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Reader

Pronunciation of Maori Words

page 278

Pronunciation of Maori Words.

In most languages the vowel signs are fewer than the vowel sounds, and therefore some of the signs are of uncertain value. In our own language the pronunciation has undergone many changes since the period in which the spelling acquired a comparative fixity, and thus the uncertainty of the signs has become more perplexing. The same word is pronounced differently in different counties; families have traditions of their own; individual persons have their peculiarities with respect to fineness of ear, to precision in utterance, and to the influence of written forms upon their habits of speech. One consequence of all this is that, if a writer tries to indicate the quality of a sound by saying that it is the sound of a certain letter or syllable in an English word, he knows that different readers will receive different impressions from what he has written. It is not enough to say that the scholars by whom Maori speech was first reduced systematically to writing adopted the Italian vowel system. It is nob certain that they did their work quite consistently; and it is nearly certain that some readers will not know what the Italian system is. Besides, Italian has not as many vowel signs as there are vowel sounds to he severally indicated by the signs. For these reasons, it appears to he necessary to make an attempt to bring the signs into direct relation with the organs of speech.

Roughly speaking, the long vowels a, n, i, o, u, in Maori, may be represented in this order by the English signs ah, eh? ee, oh! oo. The first sound (which is that of a in father and in part) requires the widest opening of the mouth, the lower jaw dropped, the tongue lying low in the mouth, and perhaps somewhat retracted, with its tip sensibly depressed by a muscular effort, and the lips wide apart. If now the lips are brought very near together, and somewhat protruded, with as little change as possible in the posture of the jaw and the tongue, the last sound in the series—oo, as in who, food, boot—is produced. The middle term of the series—ee in feet—requires a posture of the mouth quite different from the two that have been described, but quite as easy to describe. The tongue being raised till it nearly closes with the palate, the passage page 279for the breath is reduced in vertical height, flattened vertically, and, with a moderate parting of the lips, all is ready for the utterance of the sound ee (It may be remarked that, if while the passage is thus flattened the lips are brought very near together and protruded—"pursed up"— as for oo, the sound that is heard is the French u.) The eh sound, like the ee, is produced by an upward "squeezing" of the tongue, but the "squeeze" for eh lies further back in the mouth than the ee "squeeze," and does not extend to the tip of the tongue, which falls from the ee position in the change from ee to eh. (Perhaps a similar upward pressure further back still is the condition of the production of our short a in eat and in man, a sound that is related as nearly to eh in one direction as to ah in another. It is doubtful whether this sound is ever heard in Maori.) The o (oh!) requires a mutual approach of the lips, not so close as that which is necessary for oo.

The short Maori vowels corresponding to e, i, and u long —that is, to eh, ee, and oo—are identical with our short e, i, and u in the English words pet, pit, and put. The Maori short o is not our o in not (which has au or ou in naught and nought for its relative long vowel). Maori short o is produced with the same position of the organs as long o, and differs from long o in duration only and not in nature. The sound of Maori short o is heard in a short and sharp English negative—no!—or a short and sharp O! as an interjection. The so-called short a in Maori somewhat resembles our e in her, i in sir, and u fur. It is the sound which by some students of speech is indicated by the sign ŭh. The organs when in the form proper to ah are subject to the constraint involved in the depression of the tip of the tongue. The mere release from this constraint produces the attitude required for this short a, which approximates to our short u in nut, but is not identical with it. It is one of the most indolent sounds ever used. It is rather like the u in fur and lurk than like the u in furrow and luck. The vowel sound in our the and a (the articles), when entirely free from emphasis, resembles it. We say ŭh man and thŭh man, rather than eh man and thee man. The French le is very much like lŭh. Perhaps most English people say umbrellŭh, rather than umbrellah. The Maori place-name Ma'ke-tu' is not pronounced exactly Muckaypage 280Too; it is, rather, Mŭh'keh Too'. This ŭh sound can scarcely be called "short," for it is capable of indefinite prolongation and continuance.

The Maori vowels are very pure. In English we have many syllables ending with consonants, and the movement of the tongue from a vowel position to a consonant position changes the quality of the end of the vowel; but in Maori every syllable ends with a vowel. We are so accustomed to consonantal endings that in a syllable where there is no such ending we are apt to introduce a false ending in the form of a very short unaccented vowel. In the name of our letter A, for example, and in words in which the letter has the same sound as its name, the main part of the vowel is like Maori e (ah) or French é, but we finish the sound with a short i. In words like may and braid we seem to acknowledge this habit, by writing the letter i or y after the a. In Maori such an English a needs two letters to express it—ei (i.e., eh'-ee, with the ee (i) sound very short). The Maori e is purer than the peculiar English a in made. In English, again, we can utter a sharp emphatic no! with a pure o (oh) sound, but if we dwell on the sound we are apt to glide into oo and say no-oo. The Maori o (oh) is pure, and there is a very broad difference between po (night) and po'-u (a pole). No single letter in Maori can denote the complex sound of our pronoun I; the nearest Maori equivalent is ai (ah'-ee), with the i (ee) short. In some English words the letter u has the same sound as the pronoun you, where the y represents a semi-cousonantal use of the vowel ee (i). In Maori, u is never anything but the long oo in boot and food, or the short oo in good, took, and foot. An attempt is sometimes made to accommodate the name of New Zealand to Maori spelling by writing Niu Tireni, with iu to represent the English sound of the name of the letter u—ewe, you. A Maori, however, would not naturally pronounce Niu as N'you; he would probably say Nee'-oo.

It is sometimes said that there are no diphthongs in Maori. It is quite true that there are no digraphs, that is to say, there are no instances of the use of two vowel signs in one syllable with the value of only one of the signs. In English the verb led and the name of the metal lead are not distinguishable in sound; the ca in lead has now the same value as the e in led. There is nothing like this in page 281Maori. And there are no silent vowels such as our e in made, which e indicates the character of the preceding a, and has no sound of its own. Further, in most cases where two Maori vowels come together they may be regarded as belonging to separate syllables. The following words, for example, are words of two syllables, with the accent on the first syllable: Kea, tia, toa, kua; koe; toi, tui; reo, whio; heu, whiu. In kiekie—a reduplicated form—each element is a dissyllable, ki'-e. In ueue we have a similar reduplication, and each element is a dissyllable, u'e. So, in tuoro, the u and the o belong to distinct syllables. It is of the utmost importance to remember that where two vowels stand together in a Maori word of two syllables the accent is on the first vowel.

There are, however, some combinations in which an accented vowel and a following unaccented vowel seem to unite so easily as to leave on the ear the impression of a single syllable. So far as they do this they may be regarded as forming a diphthong. The combinations that have the best claims to be considered diphthongs in this sense are ai (ah'-ee) and ei (eh'-ee), very much like our pronoun I, and our A in ABC; and next to them stands au (ah'-oo), very much like our ou in noun and our ow in now.

In Maori eu (eh'-oo) probably the e and the u do not blend in a diphthong, that is to say the u constitutes a separate syllable. Maori ae (ah'-eh) inclines to be dissyllabic, the change from ah to eh in ae being much more marked than the change from ah to ee in ai. So also, Maori ou (oh'-oo) seems to fall apart into two syllables; although au may he probably accepted as belonging to one syllable. Maori oi (oh'-ee) is dissyllabic, rhyming not with joy, bub with Jo-ey; oe (oh'-eh), too, is dissyllabic. Maori ao (ah'-oh) ought not to be regarded as belonging to one syllable; but cave must be taken not to lot any accent fall on the o. The word Maori is not Ma-Ory, but Ma'-o-ri. Any attempt to pack a'o into one syllable appears to result in an English ow, which resembles Maori au.

According to the universal rule here laid down, Maori i never holds an unaccented place before another vowel in a simple Maori word, and therefore never assumes the function of our initial y: there are no syllables like yah, yah, yea, yoh, you. The Maori oo sound can occupy an unaccented page 282place before a (ah), e (eh), or i (ee), but in that case its semiconsonantal power is recognised (as in English) by substituting the letter w for the letter u: thus we have the syllables wa, we, wi; and this w sound of u, blended with an aspirate, enters into syllables wha, whe, and whi. When ua, ue, ui are written the accent falls on the u. The place name Uawa is pronounced as if it were two words, U A'wa

It is very remarkable that in the Maori syllable wa,. when it is followed by a consonantal syllable, as in waka, the a is not the Italian a (ah). It almost seems as if the missionary scholars were misled by English spelling, and did not observe that, in English after a w we very commonly find the short o (in not), or its relative long sound of au (in naught), represented by a. In watch and what we have the sound of short o; in water, the sound of au or aw. Waka is certainly not pronounced wahka, nor is whaka pronounced whahka; what one hears is rather w?kka and wh?kka, avoiding, however, a real doubling of the k. This English o sound is nearly related both to ah and to oo. It has not been recognised hitherto as having any place in Maori speech.

Maori o (oh) before an accented vowel is sometimes erroneously pronounced w, so that, Q-a'-ma-ru becomes Wommeroo; and, conversely, Wanaka has been written Oanaka.

By reduplication and by word-building some combinations of vowels occur that require notice. In O'nga-onga and in O'ta-o'ta there appears at first hearing to be a combination of a and o, like the ao in the word Maori, with accent on the a (O'-ta'o-ta). But this ao differs from the ao in the word Maori: the accent is on the o and not on the a, and the word is pronounced as if it were two words-O'ta O'ta. So, also, the name sometimes written Tokaanu, but more frequently Tokanu, is pronounced as if it were two words—To'ka A'nu. In Oro'ngooro'ngo, the fourth o is almost lost, but still it is heard in Native pronunciation.

Maori w is unaccented short u (oo) followed by a, e, i (ah, eh, ee). Maori wh is aspirated w, and presents no difficulty to speakers accustomed to distinguish between Wales and whales. W and Wh are labial semi-vowels. Wh in Polynesian dialects other than Maori is represented by f, page 283and some Maoris sound it very nearly as f. Maori h is like our own, but in some districts it approaches our sh. The Maori labial consonants are p and m; the palatal are t, n, and r; the guttural are k and ng. The t sounds as if the tongue were too large for the mouth, and this effect appears to be produced by the contact of the tongue with the teeth. The r inclines to l, and even to d. The inclination to l is partly a matter of dialect. The Ngaitahu, of the South Island, are prone to it, so that we have Waihola for Waihora, and Little Akaloa, not far from Akaroa. The inclination to d is especially noticeable in the second of two syllables both of which begin with r. Rangiriri appears as "Rangiridi" in every line of a copybook written at the Bay of Islands in 1826. Old Wellington residents said Why-drup (or something very like it) for Wairarapa, and D'Urville wrote Wai-Terapa.

Ng is a consonant related to n and m, exactly as k is to t and p. In ng, n, and m the passage by the mouth is closed, and the breath issues by the nose. These three sounds are all continuous. A constant humming can be kept up on m when the lips are closed as for p; a constant droning on n with the passage blocked by the tip of the tongue as for t; and a constant sounding of ng with the passage closed as for k by the back part of the tongue. The sound ng is common enough in English, but always at the end of the syllable, while in Maori it is (theoretically) at the beginning. Whoever can say, "Sing, ah! sing," can say Si'-nga, detaching the ng from the si. The difficulty is imaginary. The common mistakes are to pronounce the ng as in finger (which we pronounce as if the first syllable were fing—with ng—and the second syllable began with another g—hard g), and to treat the n and the g as if they stood for two separate sounds, n and g (N-n-gah).

It is not true that Maori has no accent. In words of two syllables the accent is usually on the first. In words of three syllables the accent is generally on the first, unless the first is a prefix, or the word is a compound word. In a compound word the accents are practically where they would be if the elements stood apart. This last rule covers much ground, and takes in the very numerous cases of reduplication. (But see the preceding remarks on Otaota and Tokanu).

page 284

A very good idea of the pronunciation of Maori may be gleaned from a careful study of the forms the Natives give to words adopted by them from the English. Some of these adopted words, taken at random, here follow:—

Tima (steamer), meera (mail), waea (wire, i.e., telegram), Kooti (Court), Kerei (Grey), Ta Ata Katene (Sir Arthur Gordon), Roretana (Rolleston), Karauma karaati (Crown grant), eka (acre), kura (school), hekeretari (secretary), Akarana (Auckland), paraoa (flour), parakuihi (breakfast), tina (dinner), mahita (master), tureiti (too late, used as a verb, to denote irregular attendance), hahi (church), pihopa (bishop), hipi (sheep), kau (cow), roia (lawyer), minita (minister), takuta (doctor), puruma (broom), piihi (piece), Pepuere (February), Tihema (December), Hune (June), Hurae (July), pepa (paper), pukapuka (booh), Mei (May), maero (mile), kata (cart), hawhe (half), waina (wine), Kuini (Queen), Kawana (Governor).

The following list contains the Maori names mentioned in the "Description of Land Districts" in the "Official Yearbook" for 1893 (pp. 369-418). The names are divided into elements, as a guide to the pronunciation. In each element the accent is on the first syllable. A capital letter at the beginning of any element (except the first element of a word) indicates that the element thus distinguished can be used as a Maori word. It must not be taken for granted that an element thus marked as a word is, in the particular combination in which it is found, really a Maori word. It may be that where it stands as part of a geographical name it is an abbreviation of some longer word, or has arisen from some misunderstanding or corruption. The object here in view is not to show the etymology of a name, but to indicate, the correct accent. Further, it is the accent of the element only that is indicated—the accent being, as has been said, on the first syllable of the element. In the pronunciation of the whole word emphasis plays an important part, and perhaps the emphasis falls more often on the adjectival part of a compound than on the substantival. In this respect there is always some uncertainty. In an English name, such as Longbeach, there is first a stage at which the significance of each element is distinctly recognised, and the name is written Long Beach, and uttered with a fairly equal emphasis on both words; but when the page 285descriptive designation comes to be regarded as a mere name it becomes Long-beaeh, with a definite accent on the adjectival part. The distinction between emphasis and accent— as these terms are here employed—is the vital principle of this attempt to afford guidance to those who are not acquainted with the Maori tongue. Take the word Haka-taramea for the sake of illustration. It is certain that the first element is Ha'ka, and not Ha-ka'; that the second is Ta'ra, and not Ta-ra'; and that the third is Me'a, and not Me-a'. It is certain, again, that it would not be right to say Ha'kata Ra'mea. But there is not the same certainty with respect to the relative prominence that a speaker will give to one of the three elements as compared with the other two. This relative prominence is what is here meant by emphasis.

A Haura; Ahi Manawa; Ahu Riri; Aka Eoa (in Ngaitahn dialect, for Whauga Roa); A Muri; Ao Rangi; Ao Rere; Apa Rima (Aparaima is wrong); Ara Hura, Ara Whata (not Arawata); Awa Kino (awa means the depression in which a river flows); Awa Mutu; Awa Nui; Awa Rua; Awa Tere.

Eke Tahuna.

Ha Tataka Mea (not Tera); Hanga Roa (corrupt form of Whanga Roa); Hapuku; Hau Raki; Hau Rangi; Hau Roto; Hau Turn; Hawea; Hawera; Here Taunga; Hiku Rangi; Hoki Anga; Huru Nui.

Ika Matua; Inanga Hua.

Kaia Poi (an abbreviated word); Kai Hu; Kai Kohe; Kai Kora (properly Kai Koura); Kai Koura; Kai Manawa; Kainga Roa; Kaipara; Kai Tangata; Kai Tuna (kai moans food); Kanieri; Kara Mea; Ka Ranga Rua; Kati Kati; Kawa Kawa; Kaweka; Kawhia; Kene Puru; Ketu; Kumara.

Ma Kaki Pawa; Ma Hara Hara; Mahia; MahinaPua; Mahi Tahi; Maka Waiho (Makawiho is wrong); Make Tu; Ma naia; Mana Pouri (perhaps this should be Manawa Pore); Mana Roa; Manawa Tu; Manu Here kia (Herikia is wrong, kia is substituted in dialect for ngia, the sign of the passive); Manukau Taki; Mania Toto (not Maniototo); Manu Tahi; Manga Han; Manga Kahia; Manga Roa; Manga Tai Noka (not Noko; manga means branch or fork); Mango Nui; Mango Nui O Wae; Mapou Riki (not Rika);page 286Marae Kowhai; Ma Ruia; Ma Taki Taki; Mata Ta; Ma Taura; Ma Tiri; Mate Mate Onge (not onga); Maunga Raki (maunga means hill); Maunga Tu Roto; Miko Nui; Mimi; Moe Hau; Moe Raki; Mokau; Mokihi Nui; Moko Reta; Motu; Motu eka (probably Motu Weka); Motu Kawa; Mou Tere.

Nuhaka; Ngaere; Nga Kawau; Nga Para; Nga Rua Wahia; Ngaru Boro. (Ngatimoti appears to be for Na Timoti.)

In most cases O standing as the first element of a word seems to be a sign of a place-name, or else an obsolete form of the definite article. In intermediate places an O standing alone is a preposition, and has no accent.

O A Kura; O Amaru; O Hau; O Hura; O Hine Miri; O Hine Mutu; O Karito; O Kato; O Kura; O Mapere; O Mata; O Moe Roa; (Onamalutu is nob Maori); One Hunga; O Ngarue; O Pawa (better Paoa); O Pihi; O Potiki; O Pua; Opu nake; O Reti; O roua; Ota Keho; O Tama Tea; O Tau; Ofe Kaike (probably Ote Kaika); Ote Popo; O Tira; O Toro Hanga.

Pae Roa; Pae Rua; Pahi Atua; Pa Kawau; Pakiri; Papa Hana; Papa Nui; Papa Roa; Papa Roha; Para Para; Paringa; Paui Rau; Pi Ako; Piki Ki Runga; Pi rongia; Poe Rua; Po hangina (should probably be Pou); Pohatu Roa (not Roha); Po Hue (not Hui); Puhi Puhi; Pukaki; Puke Aruhe; Puke Toi; Pu Nehu; Pure Ora.

Raho Tu; Rai; Ra Kaia; Rangi Ora; Bangi Taiki; Rangi Tata; Rangi Tikei; Rangi Toto; Rau Kumara: Rawene; Remu era (Remu Wera is probably the correct form); Rimu; Bimu Taka; Biwaka (probably Rui Waka); Roto Iti; Roto Kare; Boto Kino; Roto Roa; Roto Rua (Roto means lake); Rua Hine; Rua Peliu; Rua Toki.

Tai eri; Taipo (perhaps Taepo); Taia Roa; Tai Tapu; Taka; Takaka; Taka Pau; Tanga Rakau; Taona; Tapa Nui; Tara naki; Tara Rua; Tarata; Tau Hoa; Taumata Mahoe; Tau Maru Nui; Taupo; Tauranga; Tau Tuku; Tawai Roa; Te Anau; Te Aroha; Te Kapo; Te Kuiti; Te Muka (perhaps Teumu-kaha); Tara Makau (not Teremakau); Ti Maru; Tini Roto; Tirau Mea (not Tirumea); Toka Toka; Toka mairiro; Toko Raki; Te Moana; Tonga Porutu; Torea; Toro Tora; Totara; Tu Pa Roa; Turi Whati (not Turiwhate).

Ure; Ure Nui; Ure Wera.

page 287

Waha Po; Wai Apu (wai means water); Wai Aria; Wai-a Toto; Waiau; Waiau Ua; Wai Hao; Wai Hemo; Wai Ho; Wai Hora (Waihola is due to southern dialect); Wai Hou; (Wai Kaia?); Wai KaKa; Wai Kare; Wai Kare Moana; Wai Kari (probably Waikare); Wai Kato; Wai Kawa; Waikou aiti; Wai Ma; Wai Maka Riri; Wai Manga Roa; Wai Mapu; Wai Mate; Wai Mea; Wai Nui; Wai Nui O Mata; Wai Ngongoro; Wai O Mata Tini; Wai Pa; Wai Pahi (perhaps Waipa Hihi); Wai Piro; Wai Pukn; Wai Puku Rau; Waira Rapa (etymologically, Wai-rarapa); Wai Rau; Wai Roa; Wai Rua; Wai Taki; Wai Tangi; Wai Taha; Wai Tara; Wai-te Mata; Wai Totara; Wa Kaia; Waka Marina (Marino is probably the true spelling); Waka Tipu; Wanaka; Wera Iti; (Wingatui is not Maori); Whaka Mara; Whaka Tane; Whanga Elm; Whanga Nui (better Maori than Wanganui); Whanga Pe; Whanga Pcka (better than Wangapeka); Whanga Rei; Whanga Roa; Whata Roa (better than Wataroa); Whiti Anga.

Some words that simulate Maori are Scripture names— as Huria (Judaa); Petane (Bethany),. Many names now current are corrupt—as Kaiwarra (for Kai Whara); Petone (for Pito One); Tenui (for Ti Nui). Titri is a corrupt iorm of the English words Tea Tree (for Ma'nuka).