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Maori Pronunciation and the Evolution of Written Maori

The Maori Alphabet

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The Maori Alphabet

A a. E e. H h. I i. K k. M m. N n. Ng. ng. O o. P p. R r. T t. U u. W w. Wh. wh.

The Vowels are:

a. e. i. o. u.

Remember always:


That every syllable ends with a vowel.


That every vowel is pronounced.


That there are no diphthongal sounds in Maori.

There is a long and a short sound to each vowel sound in Maori; and the proper study and practice of these sounds is of utmost importance. When two vowels occur together each vowel must be given its full sound value.

The a sounds in Maori:


The sound of a in father: ā.


The sound of a in another (or the u sound in dun): or the a sound in woman.

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Practise with the following, giving the consonants the English sounds. The symbols show which sound is to be used: ā as in father; a as in another.

  • mata, matā, mātā, pāpapa, nā, nāna, nānā, tapatapa, tata, tātā, tātata.

The e sounds in Maori:


The sound of e in pleasure.


The sound of e in meadow; lengthened.

The English sound for e, as in prepaid, is absolutely foreign to Maori pronunciation.

Practise with the following:

  • pēpē, pepe, pēpeke, pepeke, pekepeke, tepeke, tēteka, hēhē.

The i sound in Maori:


The sound of i in tin.


The sound of i in liter.

Practise with the following:

  • kihi, hī, kīkihi, kiki, nīnipi, pihipihi, pipi, pīpī.

The o sounds in Maori are formed by giving a long and a short quality to the first half of the English diphthongal sound o. The English word No is pronounced Nou: in Maori the final sound u is omitted.

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Practise with the following:

  • pokino, poke, pokopoko, popo, pōpō, pōpopo, pōnotinoti, tomo, tōkohi.

The u sounds in Maori:


The sound of u in put.


The sound of u in rule.

Practise with the following:

  • puta, tuku, tūtata, tūpu, tumu, tūmū, tūkuku, tukutuku, tūtū, tutū.

Note.—If possible, procure the assistance of one who knows the language, when doing the practices.

The Consonants in Maori:

  • h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, wh, ng.

  • h, k, m, n, p, t, w are sounded as in English.

The r sound is a difficult sound to produce correctly: it is practically a half way sound between the l and r sounds in English. Keep in mind that this sound must have no vibration, the sound being an l or r sound shorn of vibration. Flap the front part of the tongue gently against the hard palate just behind page 8 the front teeth as the breath is emitted, keeping the rest of the tongue down and still.

Practise with the following:

  • rara, rārā, rararu, rārawa,

  • pārare, parare.

The wh sound is generally given the f sound for convenience, but this is incorrect. This was the last consonant to be included in the final Maori alphabet. The correct sound is gained by forming the w sound while the breath is being continually respirated, as in a sigh: begin a sigh before forming the w sound: try to pronounce the wh as wh is pronounced in the English word “when”.

Practise with the following:

  • whare, whēnua, whēriki, whēwhē, whēro, whēro.

The ng sound is sounded as the nasal sound of the word thing the sound represented by the phonetic symbol ɲ: it is more easily sounded by screwing up the nose: be sure to keep the tongue down and still, because movement of the tongue upwards results in the n sound. To imagine that your finger has been page 9 pricked with a needle or pin, often helps the initial performance for the sound.

Practise with the following:

  • ngaro, ngā, ngōūngōū, ngōhengōhe, ngangau, ngutu, ngaru, ngongengonge.

The general rule for accentuation is to accent the first syllable, but the accent of a word often depends on what meaning the word is intended to convey, e.g., matā: flint, bullet, insect, lead; mata: face, surface, eye, edge (of an axe), headland, raw, unripe, green; mātā: a deep swamp.

Then there is the plural of words in which the accentuation changes in quality, e.g., wahine, a woman; wāhine, women.

When whaka is prefixed to a word, the word keeps its original accent. In the word hoki, the accented syllable is ho, and it still is the primary accent in whakahōki.

In words such as kōrerorero it will be noticed that the original word (in this case kōrero) has had the last two syllables doubled. Whenever this occurs the first syllable of the doubled portion has more accent than the second syllable of the doubled portion. The main accent is on the first syllable of the complete word.

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A few words of this kind:

Ngahoahoa, headache; matangatanga, loose; kuwhewhewhewhe, wrinkled.

Each sound having been fully described, we can now proceed to arrange a pronunciation table, which will contain all the syllables to be found in the Maori language. Consistent daily practice at the table will result in fluent enunciation, and precise listening ability.

Go through the table with the long vowel sounds first and then with the short, both crosswise and lengthwise.