Te Reo Maori

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Te Reo Māori

The Māori Language

Māori is one of 2 officially recognised language in New Zealand - the other being English.

The following is far from a comprehensive guide to speaking Māori (how could it be?), but at least will provide the basics of the language and its pronunciation.


The Māori alphabet consists of only 15 letters: 

bullet5 vowels

a, e, i, o, and u.

These can be short or long.
Long vowels are written with a macron above them (see below).
bullet8 consonants

h, k, m, n, p, r, t, and w.
bullet2 digraphs

wh and ng

Unlike English, where the same spelling can have different pronunciation (cough, bough, rough) the Māori Language revolves around the vowel sounds, which never change.

All Māori Words can be broken into syllables, with each syllable ending in a vowel. For example - Māori =  Mā / o / ri.

Vowel Sounds


Is pronounced like
a ar, as in 'How are you?'
e e, as in 'egg'
i ee, as in 'see'
o o, as in 'this or that'
u oo, as in 'moon'


bullet To pronounce 'ng' properly, try this:
bullet Think of the words 'sing a'
bulletDrag the two words and run them together
bullet Now say the 'si' in your mind, and the 'ng a' out loud
bulletThe digraph 'wh' is pronounced 'f'.

For example, the Māori word 'whare' is pronounced 'far-reh'


Before the arrival of the Pakeha (Non-Māori) the Māori language was primarily oral, possessing no formal written code. Early missionaries, keen to have the scriptures written in Māori, developed a system using 10 consonants (the eight normal and the two digraphs) and 5 vowels.

images/macrons.gifFrom a linguistic perspective the system was very good however its one major shortcoming was its inability to mark the vowel length. Consequently early writings in Māori did not distinguish vowel length. 

Vowel length in Māori is phonemic - this means that vowels are either pronounced short or long. Meanings of words can alter dramatically depending on which vowels in the word are or aren't lengthened. Correct pronunciation can only be learnt if correct vowel length is displayed. It is indisputably agreed that it is essential that vowel lengths be indicated in the writing of the Māori language and that there usage be consistent.

The lengthened vowel was first displayed in the keywords of Williams's Dictionary For Māori Language in its 5th edition that was published in 1917. The symbol that was used was a short line or bar (macron) over the vowel signifying a long length and an absence of the bar signifying a short length. 

The selection of this symbol has caused frustration in the ensuing years as typewriters and early computers could not reproduce the symbol easily. Furthermore the 5 symbols for the lengthened vowels do not appear in a standard 8 bit ASCII character set, used by computers.

Sometimes the umlaut (two dots above a letter) was used as a replacement for the macron when writing macron vowels. In such cases:


Fortunately this is not usually a problem with today's computers. Virtually all computers in use today, when supplied with a few simple software tools can easily display, and easily type the correct macron symbol to signify the lengthened vowel. 

This convention of displaying the lengthened vowel with a macron character is one that has been encouraged by the Māori Language Commission. It is the convention that is used in the overwhelming majority of educational institutes and it is the convention that is endeavoured to be supported in this web site.


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Need help with a Māori word?
Click here to have open a list of common Māori terms; or
Click here to open the English-Māori Translator at Otago University.


This page last updated 06/07/2003 02:11:44 AM


All materials on this site © J.M.Wilson 2001-3, unless otherwise stated.

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