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Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary


page ix


This work had its origin in a desire growing in the mind of the Author to comprehend the exact meaning of words used by the Maori people. Much had been done by Europeans long resident in New Zealand, or by those of European parentage born in the country, to gather in and put on record the vernacular forms of the native speech. A large mass of material consisting of songs, legends, &c., was also at the service of a collector, although this in reality was a very small portion of that which might have been procured had not the rough and perilous work of colonization engrossed so much of the time and energies of the early settlers. This material wholly referred to New Zealand and the New Zealand branch of the Maori or Polynesian race. The science of Comparative Philology has opened up new vistas of knowledge concerning the comprehension of ancient languages, and the old etymologies of Greek as given by purely Greek scholars, or of English as given by purely English scholars, have been found to be laughably incorrect when viewed by the light of the fuller investigation which modern learning has thrown upon the mysteries of Indo-European speech. Zend, Sanscrit, the Teutonic dialects, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, all lent their stores of ancient word-treasures to unravel the difficulties found in the comprehension of each others' language, and the result was so successful that a new science emerged from the domain of the empirical, and claimed followers among those who are ever bearing on from hand to hand the torch of intellectual progress.

Regarding the Maori speech of New Zealand as but a dialect of the great. Polynesian language, the Author has attempted to organize and show in a concise manner the existing related forms common to New Zealand and the Polynesian Islands. Several attempts have been made to produce a Comparative Polynesian Dictionary, but so gigantic was the labour, so enormous the mass of material, that the compilers have shrunk back appalled in the initiatory stages of the work, and all that remains of their efforts has been a few imperfect and unreliable pages of vocabulary scattered here and there through books treating of the Malayan and Pacific Islands. The present work is, at all events, continuous and sustained; it does not pretend to be a dictionary of Polynesian, but to present to the reader those Polynesian words which are related to the Maori dialect; using the word Maori (i.e., Polynesian, “native,” “indigenous”) in the restricted sense familiar to Europeans, as applying to the Maori people of New Zealand. Two purposes are served by the presentation of words apparently allied in sound and sense:

1st. If the Maori agrees with the Polynesian forms generally, the meaning of the word is in all probability above suspicion. If several of the Polynesian dialects agree together as to the meaning of a word, and the Maori differs, then (also probably), the Maori has lost the genuine sense of the original word, and has localised or deformed it. If the Maori word has no Polynesian affinities, then it is almost certainly a local word, either invented since the dispersion of the tribes or so warped from the primitive form as to be unrecognisable without further research. Although the Maori word may not be found directly in any other dialect, still it may be recognized in compounds; and for this purpose the comparatives are of great value. In the manner a word has suffered letter-change, and passed from dialect to dialect in decaying forms, perhaps all the history that can ever be traced of the Ancient Polynesian and his habitat may be discovered hereafter by the philologist of the future.

2nd. The classification and simultaneous presentation of the allied words offer to the student of languages a means of ascertaining the oldest and most perfect form of a word as it exists in Polynesin. Comparisons have been separately attempted between Polynesian dialectic words and those of languages spoken on the great continents, but the masters in the school of Comparative Philology have shrunk from the task or frowned upon the attempt of instituting comparisons between these almost-unknown semi-barbarous tongues and the classical or oriental languages. So decayed are many of the word-forms, so uncertain the phonography of Oceanic vocabularies, that until they could be arranged with some approach to completeness (at all events, in respect to the more vital words) any comparison with the elaborated continental languages appeared mere guess-work and unscientific assertion.

Two important parts of the work deserve brief mention. From authorities on Maori, from ancient legends, and from all sources which could be verified by careful investigation I have been enabled to insert some three thousand words (or additional meanings to words) not hitherto published. Many of these are, however, proper names. The scientific nomenclature of plants, page x birds, fishes, &c., has received much careful attention, and although this branch of the subject is not absolutely perfect, a long stride has been made in the direction of completeness.

An original part of the lexicon is that treating of the gods, heroes, &c., being short abstracts of the principal events for which their worship or their histories were famous. Want of space forbade lengthy notice or full repetition of legend, but where the tradition was too long for detailed relation, copious references have been given to the small class of books bearing on the subject.

No small proportion of the labour expended upon this work was exerted in providing examples of the use of words, both in Maori and Polynesian. Many thousands of lines from old poems, traditions, and ancient proverbs have been quoted. The examples might more easily have been given by the construction of sentences showing the use of the particular words, but, rejecting made-up examples as being in practice always open to adverse criticism, preference has been given to passages by well-known authors, where the words can be verified and the context consulted. To have given a quotation in this manner for every word would have been impossible; some of the words are not to be found in any printed record, and to have devoted a still greater length of time to the collection of examples would not have produced a result commensurate with the loss of time occasioned by long delay before publication, or even, perhaps, with the chance of the work never being finished at all.

Although the dictionary relates to the classification of Polynesian dialects proper, Malay, Melanesian, and Micronesian vocabularies have also furnished comparatives. These vocabularies are mostly in a very imperfect state, and the phonography full of variations; but the words are suggestive both as to letter-changes and meanings. It does not follow that any of these words are related to Polynesian, but the coincidences are many, and until the laws by which all languages are governed are more fully explored, it would be mischievous to exclude these apparently similar forms from comparison with each other.

Farther on I have thanked those authors and those friends from whom I have received assistance. This refers to the raw material only. In collecting the vocabularies, in searching for comparisons, in making quotations for examples, in the compilation, in the whole of the philological and literary work I have been unassisted.