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A Dictionary of the Maori Language

Preface to Sixth Edition

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Preface to Sixth Edition

For well over a century Williams's Dictionary has been the standard dictionary of the Maori language. During that time five editions have been published, all of them by members of the Williams family. The first two editions were the work of Archdeacon (later Bishop) William Williams, the third and fourth were edited by his son, Bishop William Leonard Williams, and the fifth by Bishop Herbert William Williams, a son of Bishop W. L. Williams. This is a most unusual family record, but it was, of course, an unusual family. It is a pity that the traditional family association with the dictionary has been broken, but it remains Williams's Dictionary and will so remain as long as the Maori language is remembered.

By 1948 the reprint of the fifth edition was unprocurable and a growing interest in Maori made it important that a new edition should be published. At that time the late Sir Apirana Ngata was engaged with other experts on the revision of the Bible in the Maori language, and having observed in the course of that work that there were many omissions from, and some (very few) errors in, the dictionary, he decided that it would be desirable to have a thorough revision of the work before republication.

Sir Apirana, as President of the Polynesian Society, convened a meeting of the Council to discuss the matter and it was decided to appoint a committee to carry out the revision. The committee consisted of the Hon. Sir Apirana Ngata, M.A., LL.B., D.Litt., Chairman; M. R. Jones, Deputy Chairman; J. M. McEwen, LL.B., Secretary; and Messrs William Cooper, Raniera Kingi, Pei te H. Jones, and H. U. Marumaru. A meeting of this committee was held soon afterwards and the help of the Government was offered to the project by the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser. Financial assistance was given by the Maori Purposes Fund Board and the Maori Land Boards.

The project was an ambitious one. Besides the addition of words, the amendment of scientific names, and general revision, it was proposed to include an English–Maori section as in the earlier editions. Preliminary work was left in the hands of the secretary, but before any great progress had been made the committee suffered two severe blows — the death of both Sir Apirana Ngata and Mr William Cooper.

Because of the death of Sir Apirana, the greatest of all Maori scholars, this dictionary is not the work it could have been. The demand for a Maori dictionary was growing and republication could not be postponed too long. A meeting of the committee was held at Waiomatitini and it was then decided to abandon the idea of an English–Maori section in this edition. Messrs Rongowhakaata Halbert, Rangi Royal, and Eru Pou were asked to join the committee.

By the kindness of the Ngata family, Sir Apirana's copies of the dictionary, with copious annotations, were made available to the secretary, page VI who proceeded to incorporate the notes in the new edition. Large lists of Maori words, not earlier included, were also taken from the Journal of the Polynesian Society, where they had been published by the late Mr Elsdon Best, and from other sources. Revised classifications by scientists, and operation of the law of priority in scientific nomenclature, required alteration of names of many birds, trees, insects, etc., but unfortunately, owing to the absence of clues to scientific identity, many Maori names of such things remain defined in general terms only.

The bulk of this work had been done when I was appointed Resident Commissioner in Niue Island. What remained was a formidable list of queries, principally about words the meaning of which was unknown and the names of natural objects not identified with the scientific names.

My successor as secretary was Mr W. T. Ngata, a son of Sir Apirana, who, with characteristic energy, reorganised the committee by adding the Rev. Canon Te Anga Kaa, the Rev. Canon P. Temuera, and Messrs Bruce Biggs of Auckland University College, Keepa Ehau, A. Morris Jones, and, later, the Very Rev. J. G. Laughton, who had been chairman of the Maori Bible Revision Committee. The Hon. E. B. Corbett, Minister of Maori Affairs, and Mr T. T. Ropiha, Secretary of Maori Affairs, have been particularly helpful and co-operative in many ways.

Through the efforts of the committee the work has now been completed. Great praise is due to the members, and especially to Mr Morris Jones for the tremendous task he performed in checking all of the scientific names in the dictionary. The difficulties encountered in the work will be understood on knowing that such standard reference books as Cheeseman's Manual of the New Zealand Flora and Oliver's New Zealand Birds were being revised concurrently with the Dictionary. Other accepted books of reference, also published since the fifth edition, are more or less due for revision. The following books and publications have been of considerable help:

  • Manual of the New Zealand Flora, 2nd ed., 1925 (Cheeseman).

  • New Zealand Birds, 2nd ed., 1955 (Oliver).

  • The Shellfish of New Zealand, 2nd ed., 1946 (Powell).

  • Native Animals of New Zealand, 2nd ed., 1951 (Powell).

  • Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand, 1928 (Hudson).

  • Bibliography of New Zealand Fishes, 1927 (Phillipps).

  • Forest and Timber Insects in New Zealand, 1925 (Miller).

  • The Lizards of New Zealand, 1955 (McCann).

  • The Insect People of the Maori (Miller; in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 61).

  • A Guide to the Lesser Chordates and the Cartilaginous Fishes (Richardson and Garrick; in Tuatara, Vol. 5).

  • For standard English pronunciation of words used in defining Maori vowels the reference is An English Pronouncing Dictionary, 1924 (Daniel Jones).

page VII

The revision committee wishes to express grateful thanks to the following scientists for their free and willing personal help in checking scientific names submitted to them:

  • Dr H. H. Allan, late Director, Botany Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Wellington.

  • Miss Lucy B. Moore, Senior Botanist, Botany Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Wellington.

  • Dr W. R. B. Oliver, Author of New Zealand Birds, Wellington.

  • Dr J. T. Salmon, Entomologist, Victoria University College, Wellington.

  • Mr J. A. F. Garrick, Lecturer in Zoology, Victoria University College, Wellington.

  • Mr R. K. Dell, Conchologist, Dominion Museum, Wellington.

  • Mr J. M. Moreland, Ichthyologist, Dominion Museum, Wellington.

  • Mr W. J. Phillipps, Ethnologist, Dominion Museum, Wellington.

  • Mr Y. M. C. McCann, Zoologist, Dominion Museum, Wellington.

While the original arrangement of words has been retained it is felt that clarity has been improved by setting-in derivatives instead of showing them directly below the words from which they are derived. This has the advantage of keeping the dictionary in an order which is both alphabetical and logical. A larger format has been used, also for clarity.

This edition of Williams's Dictionary is by no means the last word. There is much to be done — above all the publication of an English–Maori section. Let us hope that this need will be satisfied before long; for I have always felt that a one-way dictionary is the mark of a dying language.

Much has yet to be done also in the cross-referencing of synonyms and the indication of roots. We leave this to the new generation of Maori scholars. Mate atu he tetekura, whakaete mai he tetekura!

J. M. McEWEN, LL.B.,

Assistant Secretary, Department of Island Territories.
31 January 1957.