Pushing for Manawatu macron

00:00, Apr 26 2011

The use of a line, or macron, over the letter 'u' in Manawatu has sparked debate on the pronunciation and correct spelling of the region.

A handful of signs around Palmerston North and Feilding have been spotted with the macron, which is used to indicate a double vowel sound.

It featured on a Manawatu District Council-endorsed sign at a Feilding park and on another promoting an arts review in Palmerston North.

Massey University chief of Te Reo, Professor Tai Black, preferred the macron and said the issue was with how the word was spoken.

"Correct pronunciation is important to all people in New Zealand, not just Maori," he said.

"All New Zealanders should take a sense of pride and ownership over Maori words."


Without the macron, most people were pronouncing "Manawatu" correctly, but using language mechanisms such as the use of a macron encouraged more people to embrace the language, he said.

"I just hope we don't start beating ourselves up about it. It should be about celebrating the language.

"Every language goes through changes. Accepting a macron is not dismissing the language, it's making it more pronounced and important."

Massey University senior Maori adviser, Jacob Tapiata, said advances in technology encouraged the use of macrons to ensure proper use of Maori words.

"There has been an increased use in the last 10 to 15 years. It's to do with computer advancement."

Decades ago, publishers used double vowels to indicate the long vowel sound.

"The word `Manawatu' doesn't make sense linguistically without the macron above the `u'," he said. "Manawatu is a compound word. `Manawa' means heart. There is no such word as `tu' without the macron. It needs to have it to make sense."

But Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon said changing existing names was unnecessary. "We've been saying it this way for years. How come Maori and our parents didn't object back then?"

"If we had the local iwi coming to us and saying `this is the correct way to say it' then we probably would listen. But if it's a minority group, we probably wouldn't listen."

The change came from political correctness but Horizons would use the macrons in documents if it became essential, he said.

A macron has also appeared on an advertisement for an arts review at Te Manawa.

Kaihautu/Maori adviser for the organisation Manu Kawana said it was the correct way to spell and pronounce the placename.

Although the added accent was not widely recognised in the area, Mr Kawana said it was something Te Manawa used regularly.

"We are trying to get the right emphasis on the vowel." By adding the macron to the word, the vowel pronunciation is lengthened.

"Maori advisers who work at the [city] council suggest using the macron," Mr Kawana said.

"There is a push for the macron to be used in all texts and documents around the country."

However, former Whanganui mayor Michael Laws, who battled to keep the `h' out of the spelling of his city, told the Manawatu Standard that using a macron implied spelling "Manawatu" without one was wrong.

"Creating new Maori words seems to be a trend at the moment," Mr Laws said.

"There was never any lengthened `u' when the Europeans translated the Maori language."

However, the Maori Language Commission kaitiaki reo and senior manager, Te Haumihiata Mason, said it was "critical" that the macron was used for pronunciation purposes.

"I think it's an issue of pronunciation and using that macron to ensure it's pronounced correctly."

Being able to pronounce te reo Maori correctly was vital to keeping the language alive, she said.

"The new kids coming through don't have the language that comes with cultural history. They must know how to say these words."

The commission has advocated the use of the macron since 1987 and without one the word not only sounded different, but could also have a significant change in meaning.

The word "keke" means cake, but if you add macrons above the vowels it could also mean armpit, or the sound a door makes when opened.

Manawatu District mayor Ian McKelvie said he had "never thought about" the issue, while Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor did not mind the use of the macron: "At the end of the day, the Maori language was never a written language and if the macron helps with the pronunciation then I don't have a problem with it."

New Zealand Transport Agency spokesman Anthony Frith said they would change the signs if needed, but he was unable to comment on how much it would cost.

Land Information New Zealand spokeswoman Victoria Dew said, officially, there was no macron in Manawatu. "It's like Kapiti and Taupo. Sometimes they use it, sometimes they don't."


The meaning of Manawatu is heart standing still. The name was given to the region by Maori ancestor Hau. After travelling through, and naming Whanganui (meaning expansive mouth), Whangaehu (crested foam), felling a tree to cross the Turakina (turaki - to throw down) river, he looked upon the Manawatu river with great apprehension. His heart stood still when he saw it because of its size and beauty. 'Manawatu' is broken down into two words. Manawa meaning heart, and tu meaning standing still.


What do you think about the use of the macron? Write to the editor at PO Box 3, Palmerston North, or editor@msl.co.nz (include names and addresses), or text to 0274981242.

Manawatu Standard