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Maori Pronunciation and the Evolution of Written Maori

The Alphabet of the First Grammar

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The Alphabet of the First Grammar

1. Vowels:
Long Short
a as in father pad
e as in bate bet
i as in feet fit
o as in pole pole (shortened)

2. Diphthongs:

  • ai: as in mine.

  • au: as in house (Lincolnshire pronunciation).

  • ei: as in neigh (nearly).

  • eu: compound of e and u unknown in English.

  • oi: as in joy.

  • ou: as in house, pronounced correctly.

3. Consonants:
Letter Name
b ba
d da
f fa (used in foreign words only)
g ga (always hard as in give)
h ha
j japage 28
k ka
l la
m ma
n na
p pa
r ra
s sa
t ta
v va (in foreign words only)
w wa
x xa
y ya
z za
ng nga
The numerals:
OneKo tahiKa tahi
TwoKa duaKa rua
ThreeKa toduKa toru
FourKa waKa wha
FiveKa dimaKa rima
SixKa onoKa ono
SevenKa wituKa whitu
EightKa waduKa waru
NineKa iwaKa iwa
TenKa nga udu: Kotahi te kauKa ngahuru: Kotahi tekau
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There is no mention of the WH combination as was noticed in Kendall's vocabulary. Also, in this Grammar we find the words:
Jesus ChristJezus ChristIhu Karaiti
schoolware skūlwhare kura

The following is the Lord's Prayer in the Maori of the time:

To tátu Matúa kei te Aó tóu nóho wánga nei. Kiá pai ra óki toá Ingóa. Tou ánga e ki wakau katóa mai; me waka róngo te tángata o te wénua nei ki á koe, me te tini ánga o dúnga o te rángi ka róngo.

Mo te rá nei e óki te táhi oranga mo tatu. Waka matára tía mai tátu nei éara: pé nei tía mai ki ta tátu waka matára tánga ki te é ára o te tángata. Kaua koe e tukúa mai ki a tátu ki te méa kíno ki te méa máte tiáki mai tatu—Na! Náu ra oki te ánga ka núi: mo te kahá ra óki ahínei a—po noa, ka ore e ráwa atu. Ki a pono.

The Lord's Prayer in the Maori language of today: “E to motou Matua i te Rangi, kia tapu tou Ingoa; kia tae mai tou rangatiratanga; page 30 kia meatia tau e pai ai kia rite ano ki to te Rangi, Homai ki a Matou aianei he taro ma matou mo tenei ra. Murua o matou hara; me matou hoki e muru nei i o te hunga e hara ana ki a matou. Aua hoki matou e kawea kia whakawaia; engari whakaorangia matou i te kino. Nou hoki te rangatiratanga, te kaha, me te kororia, ake, ake, ake. Amine.

Thus, Professor Lee and the Missionaries gave the Maori a written language. The Rev. George Clark, one time Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, was brought up with the Williams family. He was tutored by the Williams who became Bishop of Waiapu. He wrote a book entitled “Early Life in New Zealand” in which he states: “It is to Dr. Lee, Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge in the early 'twenties, that we owe the inestimable boon of Maori ethnology. If you know the sound you can learn the whole art of correct speaking in an hour. [The writer would say ‘in three hours’.] The Maori never make mistakes in spelling their language, incredible as it may seem to us who have to learn our own orthography with so much labour and patience.”

The Rev. George Clark gave the number of letters in the Maori alphabet as fourteen, as follows: a e i o u h k m n p r t page 31 w ng; and stated that every syllable ended with a vowel, which shows a break away from the diphthong of previous alphabets. The reader will notice that there is no mention of WH in the above alphabet.

In 1878 the Rev. James Buller published his book “Forty Years in New Zealand” in which he states: “The Maori had no written language until it was given to them by the missionaries. The only approach to it was that of a knotted stick—a sort of genealogical record by which the wise men or Tohunga transmitted the names of successive chiefs. This was called a rakau whakapapanga or Generation Board.

Mr. Elsdon Best in his book “The Maori”, Vol. II, supplies the following information: “The Maori folk had no form of script, no method of recording events or knowledge by means of any form of written character. It has been suggested that some form of written characters was employed but that the art has been lost. There is no reliable evidence to support such statements or theories, and the best negative evidence is that the Maori formerly used a quipus or knotted cord for recording tallies. We do not know that this system was actually used here, but it was in Polynesia, and the Takitumu natives have page 32 preserved a memory of it, a traditional knowledge of the aho ponapona as they term it. Had the Polynesian, or their isolated offshoot in New Zealand, been acquainted with any form of written language, then, why should they have anything to do with the cumbrous quipus?

Another form of mnemonics is seen in what the Maori calls rakau whakapapa. These were pieces of wood about thirty inches to three feet in length. They were carefully fashioned so as to present on one side a series of prominent knobs with slots between… These staves were employed as aids to memory in reciting genealogies but were by no means numerous.”

He remarked that greater simplicity was provided for by the fact that the same word could be used for a noun, verbal noun, adjective or verb. He writes: “Its terseness is remarkable, while it contains great beauty and power of expression. It is wanting in words expressing abstract ideas such as hope, gratitude, charity; at the same time any Maori wishing to speak of these sentiments would not be at a loss for suitable words whereby to make himself understood.”

He gave the Maori alphabet as consisting of the letters a, e, i, o, u, h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, ng; page 33 and no two consonants except the double nasal could come together and every syllable ended in a vowel. The reader's attention is drawn to the fact that the WH sound is yet not part of the alphabet.

J. M. Moore, M.D., F.R.C.S., F.R.G.S., published his book “New Zealand for the Emigrant, Invalid and Tourist” in 1890. There he writes that the Maori alphabet consisted of five vowels—a, e, i, o, u; nine consonants—h, k, m, n, p, r, t, w, ng; and five diphthongs—ae, ai, au, ao, ou, all of which were pronounced as in Italian. The sound NG according to him was very soft, the g being inaudible at the beginning of a word such as Ngaruawahia, whereas in Onehunga the g is distinct though not as hard as in hunger. NG in present Maori has a definite sound wherever it is written. Mr. Moore made some mention of the habit of elision in rapid utterance quoting as an example the word Wakatipu which, he states, is sounded Wakatip. This is not really so, as the Maori pronounces all his vowels; and though it may sound otherwise to listeners the word is sounded in full. Mr. Moore gives the following rhyme as a guide to pronounce seven place names:

  • O how (Ohau) shall I cross the swift river

  • O how (Ohau)?

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  • Why can I (Waikanae) not swim to the shore?

  • O take ye (Otaki) a boat now and merrily row,

  • In the manner what you (Manawatu) did before

  • O row a- (Oroua) way gently for you must beware.

  • Of the horror when you're (Horowhenua) afloat

  • Why cowa- (Waikawa) -rdly stand I and shiver on shore

  • Till the ferry man buys me a boat.

He gave the Maori vocabulary as 6000 words, remarking that the Maori gives descriptions to everything visible in earth, sky and sea.

The Rev. James Buller wrote, in 1878: “They (the missionaries) have been blamed for using the Maori language at all. It is not too much to say that, if the missionaries had confined themselves to the English language there would have been no Christianity among the Maori to-day.”

Written Maori grew apace. The missionaries set apart a certain period of every day for learning the Maori language. Meanwhile the Maori were gradually learning the English page 35 language. In 1827 the Lord's Prayer was put through the Press, evidently by members of the Wesleyan Mission stationed at Mangungu. In the same year the Rev. R. Davies put three chapters of Genesis, seventeen verses of Exodus, Chapter XX, one chapter of S. John's Gospel, thirty verses of S. Matthew, the Lord's Prayer, and hymns, through the press.

In 1830 the Rev. W. Yate printed at Sydney five hundred copies of a book containing three chapters of Genesis, nine chapters of S. Matthew's Gospel, four chapters of S. John's Gospel, six chapters of Corinthians I, the Litany, the General Thanksgiving, part of the Morning and the Evening Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Catechism.

In his book entitled “New Zealand” the Rev. Yate writes: “When the language was in some competent degree fixed, and a sufficient copiousness of words obtained, the work of translating portions of the Holy Scriptures and of the Liturgy of the Church of England was commenced.”

On his return with the books he states that they were in great demand by the Maori who were willing to receive one as wages, or to purchase one with anything they possessed of a saleable nature.

With such a gratifying response the Translating page 36 Committee prosecuted the work of translation most assiduously. The Maori assisted the Rev. Yate with correcting the press, particularly Edward Parry Hongi. No doubt the fact that the Maori were beginning to appreciate the denotation and connotation of words assisted in procuring a better vocabulary of Maori words for the translations.

Lady Martin in her book “Our Maoris” published in 1884, gives an interesting account of the activities of the Translation Committee: “There was a Translation Committee meeting day by day in the Bishop's study to revise the Maori Prayer Book. We were often admitted to listen to the animated discussion. The three revisers were the Rev. W. Williams, an Oxford man who had joined his brother, the head of the New Zealand Mission, seventeen years before; the Bishop; and an Irish clergyman, the Rev. R. Maunsell, an able man and a scholar.”

In 1832–33 the Rev. Yate again visited Sydney, and put through the press more Scripture in the Maori tongue. He writes: “Translated into the New Zealand language our Liturgy is most strikingly beautiful.”

On January 3rd 1835, a printing press and plant were landed at Bay of Islands in charge of Messrs. W. Colenso and Ward and set up at Paihia. During the year a Maori version, page 37 in small octavo, of S. Luke's Gospel, the Epistles to the Philippians and Ephesians, was brought out. This was the first book printed in New Zealand, and about 2000 copies were printed. Colenso was connected with the press from 1835 to 1842, most of the printing being in Maori, chiefly for Missions, the items varying from a single leaf to the New Testament of three hundred and fifty-six pages.

Mr. Telford succeeded Mr. Colenso and printed fourteen items, including the first edition of “Williams's Maori Dictionary”. The C.M.S. then gave the press to Bishop Selwyn, who took it to S. John's College, Tamaki, where it was used until 1856, fifty Maori items being printed. Subsequently it was removed to S. Stephen's School, Taurarua, Parnell, where it was used until 1874, when it was sold by an Auckland auctioneering firm for £142/14/4.

Bishop Selwyn had brought a small press with him, which he set up at Waimate. When he was given the Paihia press he gave his small one to Mr. Puckey, who used it at Kaitaia. When Mr. Colenso was ordained and stationed at Heretaunga, in Hawkes Bay, he procured a small press which he used there.

In 1837 the New Testament in Maori was completed by the Rev. W. Williams, assisted page 38 by Messrs. G. Puckey and J. Shepherd. The work done by the Rev. Yate was incorporated. Five thousand copies were printed by Mr. Colenso; one thousand copies were allotted to the Wesleyan Mission, which had also a printing press of its own at Mangungu on the Hokianga River, under the Rev. Woon, who was aided by the Rev. J. Hobbs. In this year the Williams family moved to the East Coast.

In 1841 the Wesleyan Mission printed a book for the teaching of Maori; NG and W were omitted from the alphabet; K was used for NG throughout.

In 1840 Mr. Puckey, stationed at Te Ahuahu issued translations of six chapters of Daniel, and the Book of Jonah. In the same year the first instalment of the Rev. Maunsell's translation of the Old Testament was done. The Rev. Maunsell also issued a Grammar this year. His work was destroyed by fire; but, undaunted, he made a new beginning and proceeded with the translation by stages until he had completed the whole book.

The Rev. Maunsell stated in his Grammar that there were fourteen letters in the Maori alphabet as follows:

Vowels a, e, i, o, u.

Consonants h, k, m, n, p, r, t, ng, w.

He gave the vowels three sounds: the slender, page 39 somewhat broader, and the full broad sound. His diphthongs were aa, ae, ai, ao, ee, ei, ii, oo, ou, and uu.

In 1844 Old Testament Lessons were printed. In this publication the consonant WH appeared in one word—Whakatahuritanga—but the sound WH had been adopted by the Mangungu press in 1840.

The translation of the Old Testament proceeded apace. Genesis was finished and printed at Purewa.

The WH sound appeared more freely in the New Testament, and by the time of the edition of 1852 it was a fixed part of the Maori alphabet.

From 1820 to 1852 the Translation Committee had gradually deleted impossible sounds and reduced all possible sounds to print. From 1852 the alphabet was unquestionably fixed, and the alphabet today represents the final form. Those chiefly responsible for this were the members of the Translation Committee who so thoroughly revised the Old and New Testaments in Maori. The Old Testament translation was completed by 1858. The whole Bible was completed in 1868 and a revised edition was issued in 1887. For his great services the Rev. Maunsell was made LL.D. of his University of Dublin.

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The Revising Committee consisted of both Anglican and Wesleyan clergymen: Archdeacon Williams, Rev. G. A. Kimberley, Rev. T. Buddle, Rev. J. Hobbs, Rev. A. Reid; the Rev. Maunsell, who was the chief translator and reviser of the Old Testament; the Rev. Yate, Mr. Puckey, Mr. Hamlin, and William Williams.

In 1894 a Mr. Hicks of Christchurch published a shorthand book which he sold for ninepence with the assertion: “Can be learned in a few hours: is read as easily as English: invaluable to every Maori scholar.” In 1896 the Rev. H. W. Williams published a system of shorthand. Mr. S. Percy Smith also published one as shown hereunder:

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