Kia ora Maori Spongebob

Last updated 09:02 21/07/2014

MAORI VOICE: Te Atakura Pewhairangi who only learned English when she started high school is the voice of Dora.

NEW VOICE: Spongebob Squarepants will speak Te Reo.

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Who lives in a painaporo under te moana?

Spongebob Squarepants. Well, for the next two months, at least.

The comical yellow sea sponge is heading Down Under for Maori Language Week and he's brought his mate Dora the Explorer with him.

In a first, a full 60 episodes each of the popular cartoons have been translated to Maori for free-to-air television.

Commissioned by Maori TV, the approximately $500,000 project will see kids able to tune into Maori cartoons for 10 weeks in what's hoped will aid a revitalisation of the language.

"There were quite a lot of words we had to research to find out their meaning," translator and producer Pania Papa says.

"We had to break some down and decide what their best representation was. That's what happens when you create new words. It makes the language live and breathe.

"I absolutely enjoyed it," Papa says.

The hardest phrase? Hydrodynamic spatula.

"We figured out rapa means spatula or anything broad and flat," Papa explains. "Wai means hydro and whakakori is to disturb the water or to make movement. So it's rapa whakakori wai."

Translation company Takatu Associates and 12 translators spent eight months dubbing over the cartoons with Maori voices, paying particular attention to keep them sounding as much like the originals as possible.

The cartoons' distributors Viacom allowed Maori TV the rights to dub and broadcast the versions with funding available through Crown entity Te Mangai Paho.

The result's not bad.

While eagle-eyed fans may be able to spot a few mouth movements slightly out of sync, the voices - including Spongebob and his chubby starfish friend Patrick - are remarkably like the real things.

"Maori language experts say the language needs to be cemented in the home. It's part of the Government's Maori language strategy," Papa says.

"If the parents don't speak it, the cheapest way to see that happen is with good quality TV."

The project runs on the back of a pilot of five episodes of Maori Spongebob which aired five years ago.

Papa says it's not just for kids. She reckons her adult students will be glued to their screens to hear what Spongebob sounds like in Maori.

"Spongebob's got a lot of adult fans, a lot of the jokes are for adults."

The Spongebob characters even have their own dialects with the sponge himself hailing from the east with an accent of the Ngati Porou iwi. His smart-witted squirrel companion Sandy Cheeks hails from the South Island.

Beginners in the language might like to stick to preschool favourite Dora the Explorer. Dora Matatoa, as she will be called, will be shouting "Kua tutuki!" in place of "We did it!" as her mate Boots (Putu) helps her outwit the sly fox (Tahai), otherwise known as Swiper.

Maori Language Week starts today. 

You can watch the videos here. 

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- Sunday Star Times

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